Cambodia: New Plans for Draft Alcohol Law
Cambodia has been planning to adopt a draft alcohol law for five years. Now, there are new plans for an alcohol law and the previous draft seems to be out of the picture.
Currently there is minimal regulation for alcohol in the country. There is no legal minimum age for alcohol use, no limitations on sale or advertising of alcohol, no health warnings and some of the lowest taxes on alcohol in the South-East Asian region.
Even the few regulations in place, such as the blood alcohol content (BAC) limit for driving and the ban on alcohol advertising on TV during peak night hours, are not enforced adequately.
Cambodia ranks among the top countries worldwide for years of life lost due to alcohol, even though nealry 70% of the adult population lives free from alcohol consumption. But those who consume alcohol engage in heavy episodic consumption and generally consume heavy amounts (21 liters per capita, per year).
The last time Cambodia updated its national alcohol policy was in 2013, according to the Global Alcohol Status Report 2018 by the World Health Organization.
In this situation, reports emerged of the harm alcohol is causing the country.
At least since 2014, the need to implement evidence-based population level alcohol policy solutions has been discussed in the country, in order to tackle alcohol as the massive obstacle to Cambodian development.
A report published by the World Health Organization (WHO) in 2015 found, among youth between 10 to 19 years,
- 81.4% of males and 57.6% of females had reported consuming alcohol;
- 8.09% females and 1.11% of males identified themselves as heavy alcohol users; and
- Alcohol use was linked to early sexual debut, unsafe sexual practices and violence within that age range.
The high percentage of female heavy alcohol users was explained due to many working in karaoke bars or nightclubs, where they are required to consume alcohol with their customers. Personal, peer and societal pressure were also cited as factors driving Cambodian youth to consume alcohol. Many of these young people did not know about the health risks of alcohol.
Another report in 2016 by The Asia Foundation illustrated that alcohol consumption has many detrimental effects on Cambodian society, particularly for women. The report said, alcohol is responsible for more than 60 major types of diseases, including cardiovascular disease, cirrhosis of the liver, cancer and sexually transmitted diseases including HIV/AIDS and many unintentional deaths and injuries as seen through the large number of alcohol-related traffic accidents.
After these reports of the high alcohol harm to Cambodians, specifically to children and youth and calls to regulate alcohol in the country by civil society, the government began to draft an alcohol law in 2015.
The draft Law on Alcohol Regulation, which consists of some 39 articles and 11 chapters, would have been one of the strongest alcohol control policies in the region if it was implemented.
What happened to the draft alcohol law?
Unfortunately after the initial action taken to draft the law the government has been quiet for five years. According to Khmer Times, when contacted by Voice Of America in 2019 regarding the draft, lawmakers, officials and stakeholders could not specify why the adoption of the law was taking so long.
Health Minister Mam Bun Heng has said the law would be introduced in the next few years and Cambodian People’s Party lawmaker Lork Kheng, who is on a parliamentary commission involved in the process, wasn’t able to give a timetable on the process either, stating further stakeholder consultation was needed.
Movendi International members from Cambodia have shed some light on what is happening with the alcohol law in the country. It appears the responsibility of the alcohol law has changed from the Ministry of Health to the Ministry of Commerce and the initial draft has been abandoned for a new draft of which nothing has been disclosed.
Movendi International member organizations in Cambodia are questioning why the commerce ministry and not the public health ministry would be in charge of drafting a law on alcohol which is a public health concern.
The lead ministry in charge of the development and adoption of the alcohol law was changed from Ministry of Health (MoH) to Ministry of Commerce. This ministry is pro alcohol industry and not public health minded. They are open to and subject of interference from lobbyists for major alcohol producers from Europe and Singapore. The Ministry of Commerce has abandoned the draft law developed by the MoH. But so far, their own, new draft alcohol law remains secret. The MoH has backed away from developing alcohol law due to pressures.” said Movendi International member organizations in Cambodia.
The Phnom Penh Post: “Youths tackle alcohol on social media“