Despite the high death toll from COVID-19 and the massive burden of long standing alcohol harm in India the alcohol industry is pushing for greater alcohol availability. Allowing online alcohol sales and on-demand home delivery will increase alcohol availability – something the World Health Organization has advised to avoid.

The alcohol industry is pushing to introduce home delivery of alcohol and make alcohol even more available in India. Due to the heavy toll of COVID-19 many Indian states are in lockdown. As of the time of writing, COVID-19 deaths in India are at 258,000. Meanwhile alcohol’s death toll in India in 2017 was over 580,000, according to the Global Burden of Disease Study. The country is struggling with the pandemic and a long standing alcohol problem while the alcohol industry is adding fuel to the raging fire.

Big Alcohol has unleashed a well-planned lobby campaign pressuring state governments to legalize home delivery of alcohol. This has been a systematic move which led some states to trial various online sales methods including a token system. As of the recent lockdown these trials have halted.

Now, the alcohol industry is deploying the same age old talking points to push for home delivery – at the height of the coronavirus crisis in India. They are claiming:

  • The lockdown had reduced sales,
  • The coronavirus crisis was affecting the alcohol industry negatively,
  • Beer stocks could expire and go to waste,
  • The multi-billion dollar alcohol industry was unable to pay its employees, and
  • Falling alcohol sales (and Big Alcohol profits) were bad for the economy.

Meanwhile, people are dying and hospitals are far beyond capacity because of the coronavirus crisis

Alcohol home delivery would make alcohol even more widely and easily available in Indian community. But alcohol availability is a key driver of consumption and harm, especially hurting the poorest and most vulnerable people and communities. Online sales and on-demand delivery of alcohol also brings with it severe problems of protecting minors from alcohol and of protecting already intoxicated alcohol consumers from further harm.

The alcohol industry is performing poorly regarding compliance with age limits for alcohol purchases and on delivery industry operators routinely fail to ensure that no minors and already intoxicated people are given alcohol.

The World Health Organization specifically advised to reduce alcohol availability during the pandemic because of the lethal interaction between the products and practices of the alcohol industry with COVID-19. Alcohol harm decreases healthcare and police capacity by driving accidents, injuries and violence – all of which can be avoided and prevented through proven alcohol policy solutions.

In fact, people and communities in India have already experienced the negative effects of alcohol during COVID-19. The country temporarily banned alcohol sales during lockdown in May, 2020. When lockdown was eased alcohol sales re-opened. And with it violence rose and breaking of physical distancing measures was frequently observed in alcohol-centric environments. This fueled the spread of the coronavirus.

A groundbreaking report recently detailed the lethal interaction between alcohol industry products and practices and the COVID-19 pandemic.

  • Alcohol increases the health and societal problems arising from the pandemic. For example, alcohol weakens the immune system and makes people more susceptible to infections. And alcohol-centric social contexts have been COVID-19 super spreader events. 
  • Alcohol increases the burden on healthcare and emergency services which are already dysfunctional due to COVID-19.
  • The alcohol industry exploits the pandemic to change alcohol laws to their benefit, such as this push for alcohol home delivery in India.

Alcohol is not socially or economically advantageous to Indian society either. A modelling study found that economically India loses 1.45% of its GDP due to alcohol. This is more than the country’s entire health spending which is 1.28% of its GDP. In numbers, between 2011 and 2050 India stands to lose US$2.2 trillion – accounting for tax revenues from the alcohol trade – due to the costs from pervasive alcohol harm.

Despite massive alcohol harm, India does not have a national alcohol policy system in place. Instead alcohol policy solutions depend on state governments. And state governments do not usually implement evidence-based public health alcohol policy measures. These state governments have an unhealthy dependence on alcohol industry revenue. This dependence is used by the alcohol industry to push for home delivery even during one of the largest health crises India has faced.

Temporary alcohol sales bans are effective in reducing alcohol trauma admissions to hospitals and increasing hospital capacity as well as decreasing violence as shown by the South African example. But to further increase alcohol availability in a system where the alcohol industry is already poorly regulated and people are hardly protected from Big Alcohol’s products and practices will only accelerate the crisis within the crisis: rising alcohol harm and an even more lethal interaction between alcohol and COVID-19.

Source Website: The New Indian Express