Cambodia is discussing a draft alcohol law including a minimum legal age limit for alcohol use to better protect children against alcohol harm.
The Ministry of Public Works and Transport; the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports; and the Ministry of Health are discussing about including the age limit in the “Control of Alcohol Products” act, that is in the making.
Khieuv Borey, Secretary of State of the Ministry of Social Affairs, Veterans and Youth Rehabilitation, and Vice President of the Cambodian National Council for Children highlighted the harm caused to children due to alcohol in a seminar. She added that as a party to the Convention on the Rights of the Child the Cambodian government has a duty to protect children against such harm.
We know that alcohol is a big problem for youth, such as physical and mental health issues, traffic accidents, violence, domestic unrest, and wasting a lot of money,” said Khieuv Borey, Secretary of State of the Ministry of Social Affairs, Veterans and Youth Rehabilitation, and Vice President of the Cambodian National Council for Children, as per Khmer Times.Khieuv Borey, Secretary of State, Ministry of Social Affairs, Veterans and Youth Rehabilitation, and Vice President, Cambodian National Council for Children
She also appealed to ministries, institutions, national and international NGOs, community development partners, parents, and relevant units to aid in getting the draft law approved and implemented.
Timothy Loke, regional director managing the Southeast Asia office of the IOGT-NTO Movement based in Chiang Mai, Thailand echoed Ms. Borey’s calls, saying children have a right to live in a safe environment where they can grow and develop. This includes being protected from harm, and one of those is alcohol harm which is a major risk factor for non-communicable diseases (NCDs).
Big Alcohol interference in Cambodia
Public health policy-making related to alcohol has been contentious in Cambodia. As Movendi International previously reported, Cambodia drafted one of the region’s best laws on Alcohol Regulation in 2015. However, since then the government went quiet about the law with no one explaining why it was never adopted.
Big Alcohol’s lobbying and interference in the country has been a serious obstacle to alcohol policy progress.
Alcohol companies are growing fast in Cambodia. In the last two years alone two new beer producers Vattanac Brewery Ltd. and Hanuman Beverages joined the market. Already there are several major alcohol companies in the Cambodian alcohol industry: Cambrew (75% owned by Carlsberg), Khmer Beverages, Cambodia Brewery Ltd (owned by Heineken), Ganzberg Brewery, and Pernod Ricard (Cambodge) Co., Ltd.
The beer market in Cambodia was worth $1.03 billion in 2015. It is estimated to reach $2.20 billion by 2025, according to the data company Market Research. The report showed the average consumption per capita in value terms reached $67.42 in 2015.
With so much profit at stake, Big Alcohol has been obstructing alcohol policy solutions in the country to eliminate any threat to their sales and profits. Evidence-based alcohol policy solutions would reduce population-level alcohol use to protect more people from the harms caused by alcohol. This would diminish profits of multinational alcohol giants while it would boost health and development for the Cambodian people and society.
Yong Kim Eng, president of NGO People Center for Development and Peace (PDP-Center) believed the delay in adopting the draft alcohol law of 2015 is because of a conflict of interest: the links between officials and the the alcohol industry.
The level of alcohol industry interference is evident by the fact that brewery inaugurations in Cambodia are attended by high-level officials, including Prime Minister Hun Sen.
Investors have close ties with powerful politicians,” said Yong Kim Eng, president of PDP Center, a member organization of Movendi International, as per Camboja News.
They [investors] had persuaded the officials not to rush the law, as it has also benefited those individuals. So, it has been delayed.”Yong Kim Eng, president, People Center for Development and Peace (PDP-Center)
Big Alcohol is also exploiting the road safety agenda in Cambodia to interfere in effective alcohol policy making that would actually prevent and reduce alcohol-related road traffic accidents.
On May 17, 2022 the National Road Safety Committee of Cambodia signed a memorandum with the International Business Chamber of Cambodia (IBC) to cooporate in promoting road safety. Members of IBC include some of the world’s largest alcohol giants, such as Heineken and Pernod Ricard as well as Cambodia’s largest brewery Cambrew.
The alcohol industry attempts to use Corporate Social Responsibility-type road safety programs to appear as “good corporate citizens”. Not only that, the alcohol industry then uses these types of CSR programs to gain access to policymakers, lobby for favorable policies to maximize Big Alcohol profits, and avoid public health-oriented alcohol policy making which threatens their profits.
Alcohol companies have a massive conflict of interest, not only in the area of public health policy but also in the area of road safety.
Need for improved alcohol policies in Cambodia
Kim Eng, PDP-Center, and the people and communities they work with advocate for four key policy solutions to be introduced through the new alcohol law:
- Raising taxes on alcohol,
- Limiting the availability of alcohol,
- Introducing a legal age limit, and
- Eliminating alcohol advertising.
These policy solutions are the most cost-effective and well proven alcohol policies recommended by the World Health Organization to improve health and development by bringing down the alcohol burden.
The new push to implement a minimum legal age limit is thanks to PDP-Center advocacy. In June this year, PDP campaigned successfully to make alcohol policy the priority it should be. As a result, 10 of the 17 political parties which were contesting the June 5 commune council elections in Cambodia signed a joint letter, promising to curb alcohol harm if they are elected.
The letter included the following WHO-recommended alcohol policy best buys:
- Restrictions or bans on alcohol advertising,
- Restrictions on the availability of alcohol, and
- An age limit for alcohol consumption.
Currently, there are no comprehensive restrictions or bans on alcohol advertising in Cambodia despite there being wide community support for better protection from alcohol ads.
Khmer Times: “Gov’t plans draft law on minimum age for alcohol consumption“
Camboja News: “Cambodia’s growing alcohol industry raises concerns, as liquor law remains stalled“