The social acceptability or tolerance to alcohol in the Indian society has reached a dangerous portent. This was a major concerns shared by health professionals, civil society and government officials at a consultation on “Alcohol Control: Public Health Perspective – moving forward towards a comprehensive National alcohol control policy”, organised by the Public Health Foundation of India (PHFI) in collaboration with the Union Health Ministry.
In India, alcohol is a state subject and states and union territories have the power to frame policies and guidelines on issues relating to movement, possession, marketing, availability, consumption, sale and state excise rates of alcohol. The above action of the Haryana Government is just a glimpse of the challenges and hurdles faced by civil society and other stakeholders in making effective alcohol control policy.
On 9 April, I had attended PHFI consultation in which Prof. Thomas Babor described alcohol as “a corporate-borne disease“.
This was the third expert consultation in a series of events Nada India heart-driven participated on control and prevention of non-communicable disease.
Here, it is relevant to recall the speech by Dr Margaret Chan Director-General of the World Health Organization from 10 June 2013 at the 8th Global Health Promotion Conference in Helsinki, Finland. Dr Chan said:
Market power readily translates into political power. Few governments prioritize health over big business. As we learned from experience with the tobacco industry, a powerful corporation can sell the public just about anything.
Today, getting people to lead healthy lifestyles and adopt healthy behaviours faces opposition from forces that are not so friendly. Not at all. Efforts to prevent noncommunicable diseases go against the business interests of powerful economic operators. In my view, this is one of the biggest challenges facing health promotion.”
Nada India shares these concerns and this analysis and understanding which will help us in creating a conducive environment for healthy behaviour and inclusive alcohol control policy in India.
On behalf of Nada India Foundation I had the opportunity to raise a number of points and suggested the following to be included in the final white paper prepared during the PHFI consultation on Alcohol Control Policy.
- Panchayat and other local bodies are important pillars of democracy and they have a definite role to play in making of Alcohol Control policy and work effectively at local level.
- The formulation of the Indian alcohol policy is underway. I think it’s important to make clear that Article 47 of the Constitution of India is ever more relevant today in this market driven society. Five states in India opted for keeping alcohol illegal, and these state government’s decision ought to be respected and can have space in the policy.
- Workplace and alcohol: Workplace Alcohol Prevention and control is an integral part of alcohol policy. Driving or handling of machines at a factory or weapon in uniform services is dangerous and difficult and demands zero tolerance as supported by WHO and ILO initiatives.
- We need to learn from the experiences of people and agencies working for tobacco control in India. The World Cancer Report 2014 encourages to “Extend tobacco-style restrictions to alcohol.”
- Location of liquor vends adjacent to National Highways are in contravention of norms of national highway authority of India (NHAI), along the national highways Nada India suggested that there should be a provision of the recreation centre equipped with basic facilities for rest, food and health at major transport centers instead of alcohol outlets etc.
I hope the PHFI consultation will pave the way to address the problem of alcohol use from public health perspective with multi-stakeholder involvement from government, civil society and like-minded organisations as urged by Mr. C.K. Mishra, additional secretary in the Health Ministry.