Recently, the Excise Department of Sri Lanka came under heavy criticism from communities across the country for a proposal to allow the online sale of alcohol in Sri Lanka. According to the country’s law online sale of alcohol is illegal.
The proposal was approved by the Ministry of Finance but rejected by the government’s COVID-19 Task Force since it could significantly increase alcohol harm during the ongoing health crisis.

The proposal for online alcohol sales put forth by the Excise Department followed a flawed logic that alcohol is a revenue generating product. In truth, as health advocates pointed out, the costs from harm caused by alcohol to the people of Sri Lanka far exceed revenue from the alcohol trade.

A study conducted by the World Health Organization (WHO) in Sri Lanka, the National Authority on Tobacco and Alcohol (NATA) and the Ministry of Health revealed that the economic cost of alcohol in Sri Lanka exceeded the excise revenue generated from alcohol in 2015 by over USD 100 million. The authors warn that this figure is an underestimation as the actual cost is likely far greater.

$100 Million+
loss due to alcohol products in Sri Lanka
A study revealed that the economic cost of alcohol in Sri Lanka exceeded the excise revenue generated from alcohol in 2015 by over USD 100 million.

When the Finance Ministry approved the proposal from the Excise Department, it led to a public outcry against making alcohol more available during a pandemic. Additionally, as pointed out by the Sri Lanka Liquor Licensees Association which wrote to the Excise Commissioner General regarding the matter, online alcohol sale is a violation of Sri Lanka’s Excise Notification Number 666. Since online sales can not confirm age of buyers, the proposal violates the National Authority on Tobacco and Alcohol Act as well.

We earnestly request the government not to provide permission for internet sales of alcohol which will make matters worse for all Sri Lankans already suffering from many hardships due to Covid-19 pandemic,” said the Sri Lanka Medical Association (SLMA), as per Sri Lanka Mirror.

As it is well known that alcohol use is associated with poverty, violence against women, injuries, suicides and many illnesses, providing easy access to alcohol will amplify these problems at a time which is difficult for both the government and the people.”

Sri Lanka Medical Association (SLMA)

Communities backed by public health advocates called on the government to reject this proposal. Increasing alcohol availability during a pandemic would have made matters worse for Sri Lankan communities already suffering from hardship due to the ongoing pandemic.

Apart from alcohol’s increasing risk of coronavirus infection and its complications, families and communities would suffer from personal finances being drained due to alcohol spending. Consequences of COVID-19 have caused job loss, or pay cuts for people across the country and alcohol would only make matters worse taking away from much needed family incomes.

The decline in purchasing power during this time has motivated a considerable number of [people with alcohol problems] to reduce or stop the use of alcohol, which has reduced a variety of social problems, including domestic violence, as observed by many communities and corroborated by subsequent studies,” wrote the Alcohol and Drug Information Centre, in a press release.

Scientists have repeatedly pointed out that alcohol use increases the spread of the Coronavirus, reduces human immunity, and reduces the effectiveness of vaccines; the proposal made by the Excise Department to the Ministry of Finance in such a precarious situation is astonishing.”

Alcohol and Drug Information Centre (ADIC), Sri Lanka

The proposal was sent for approval to the COVID-19 Task Force of Sri Lanka which rejected it; and requested the government not to allow online alcohol sales as it could worsen the situation for Sri Lankan communities already vulnerable during the COVID-19 health crisis. The government then decided not to go through with online alcohol sales in the country.


The Island: “Cheers and tears

The Sunday Morning: “Online liquor plans shattered

The Daily Mirror: “COVID-19 task force decides not to allow purchase of liquor online

Daily News: “Online sale of liquor NOT allowed

ADIC Sri Lanka Facebook: “The proposal of the Excise Authority to order alcohol online is a violation of the country’s law