The Chairman of the National Authority on Tobacco and Alcohol (NATA) in Sri Lanka announced that amendments will be brought to the NATA Act to ban 180 ml bottles of alcohol locally called “quarter” bottles.

The NATA Chairman, Dr. Samadhi Rajapaksa announced the plans to ban these tiny alcohol bottles while speaking at a workshop for countrywide health education officials on preparing an action plan to curtail the use of tobacco and alcohol.

The National Authority on Tobacco and Alcohol (NATA) is the pioneer government institution which was established by the National Authority on Tobacco and Alcohol Act, No. 27 of 2006, according to the website Tobacco Unmasked. The purpose of establishing NATA is the enactment of the legal aspects for alcohol and tobacco prevention in Sri Lanka.

Reducing alcohol availability, increasing alcohol pricing to benefit people and country

Dr. Rajapaksa also noted some other actions the NATA plans to take such as banning single stick cigarettes, enforcing the current alcohol and tobacco control laws more stringently, changing existing laws to empower the legal framework to curtail alcohol and tobacco use and to introduce new policies and enhancing powers vested in Medical Officers of Health, Assistant Medical Officers of Health and Customs officers to make their services for alcohol and tobacco prevention more effective.

Dr. Rajapaksa said that alcohol consumption is rising as these tiny bottles of alcohol have begun to sell more. The NATA chairman also emphasized that alcohol and tobacco taxation must be increased to reduced the consumption of these harmful products.

Increasing the taxes on alcohol and tobacco is a strategy approved by the World Health Organisation to reduce their consumption. However, the businessmen here found a method to ensure the access of low income by selling cigarettes single (loose) and by promoting quarter bottles of 180 ml liquor,” said Dr. Rajapaksa, as per The Island.

Dr. Samadhi Rajapaksa, Chairman, National Authority on Tobacco and Alcohol (NATA)

Sharing his ideas about the statements of the NATA Chairman, the Executive Director of the Alcohol and Drug Information Centre (ADIC) – Sri Lanka, Mr. Pubudu Sumanasekara said the ban of the “quarter bottles” would bring positive effects to the country by reducing alcohol consumption as well as helping those who use alcohol to reduce or quit use.

Packaging is an important tool used by industries to influence people to buy their products, be it alcohol, tobacco or any other. Packaging is used to induce people to buy and consume more, of a product,” Mr. Pubudu Sumanasekara told Movendi International in a comment.

If we take the tobacco example, availability of single sticks induce people to buy and consume more cigarettes. The alcohol industry has researched this trend well as can be seen in how they introduced beer cans for sale which are also available in six pack packaging, thereby inducing people to consume more. Different types of packaging appeal to different cultures and social strata. The industry packages alcohol in various ways to appeal to these different strata.

Banning quarter bottles of alcohol would be a positive move. Specially in a country such as Sri Lanka where price plays a major role in consumption. By increasing prices or inducing people to have to pay a higher price by banning small bottles which are cheaper, the amount of alcohol consumption and the frequency of alcohol use can be reduced. As a result the aggregate alcohol consumption in the country will reduce which will definitely be beneficial.

If we look at the issue from the point of view of the person who uses alcohol as well, this will aide them to reduce or quit their alcohol use,” said Mr. Sumanasekara.

Pubudu Sumanasekara, Executive Director, Alcohol and Drug Information Centre (ADIC) – Sri Lanka

Alcohol policy in Sri Lanka

Since the introduction of the NATA Act in 2006 Sri Lanka has an evidence-based, comprehensive and effective alcohol policy model in place.

© World Health Organization 2018

Sri Lanka is a country with the majority of adults living alcohol-free. Despite this alcohol harm drains vast resources and burdens the economy each year as those who do use alcohol consume in large amounts. While per capita alcohol consumption remain below the WHO South East Asia region average, the male per capita alcohol consumption for users only is 18.9 litres which is very high and brings with it a host of health, social and economic problems.

39.2% of youth between the ages of 15 to 19 years binge on alcohol, which is concerning as the country has a legal age of 21 years for alcohol consumption. Strengthening age verification at point of sale and enforcing the law is necessary to prevent youth initiation and easily accessing alcohol.

5.9% of men suffer from alcohol disorders with 4.9% dependent on alcohol. Banning tiny alcohol bottles will effectively reduce alcohol harm in the country and will specifically benefit those who use alcohol heavily.

Alcohol industry interferes in planned ban*

The ban on tiny alcohol bottles is likely to be brought by the Central Environmental Authority (CEA) under regulations for environmental protection. The argument of the CEA was that these bottles contribute to environmental pollution as they are used once and discarded.

Minister of Environment Mahinda Amaraweera stated that a final decision would be taken in this regard after meeting with alcohol manufacturers.

According to The Morning newspaper, the authorities have given the option to the alcohol industry to charge a refundable Rs. 50 per bottle to be refunded upon return of the bottle. Such a mechanism would not directly reduce alcohol harm as banning the tiny bottles would. However, the Rs. 50 increase can reduce consumption as these tiny bottles are often consumed by daily wage earners who are very sensitive to prices of alcohol.

Big Alcohol is of course unhappy about the refundable Rs. 50. The alcohol industry argument against the protective measures is revealing, as they are alleging that the “quarter bottles are bought almost entirely by daily drinkers and an increase of Rs. 50 would put the quarter bottle beyond consumers’ reach.” Inadvertently, the alcohol industry has admitted that they are profiting off of people with alcohol problems and suffering in poverty by offering them these tiny alcohol bottles.

The alcohol industry has gone as far as to make recommendations to escape the ban and the Rs. 50 deposit. These include,

  • Getting liquor stores to collect the empty bottles thrown in the surrounding area and hand over for recycling;
  • Loosening the NATA Act on alcohol advertising restrictions so the alcohol industry can advertise to recycle bottles; and to
  • Get the urban councils’ garbage collectors to pick up these bottles and hand it over to Piramal Glass Ltd, a glass packaging company that supplies quarter bottles to most of the local manufacturers.

Evidently all of these proposals help safeguard alcohol industry profit by keeping these harmful tiny alcohol bottles in production and they would even undermine the NATA Act.

Currently all alcohol advertising including on traditional media and social media is banned according to the NATA Act. The alcohol industry seems to have gotten bold enough to recommend loosening the existing alcohol advertising laws just so they can benefit with advertising under the guise of recycling.

*This article was edited and amended on September 9, 2020 according to new information from The Sunday Morning newspaper.

Source Website: The Island