Big Alcohol is rapidly expanding their dominance in Cambodia. As Movendi International previously reported, in the last two years alone two new beer producers, Vattanac Brewery Ltd. and Hanuman Beverages, entered the alcohol market in the country. Already major Big Alcohol companies are present in Cambodia, including 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.
In this context it is no surprise that Big Alcohol is saturating Cambodia with thousands of alcohol advertisements. The most prominent ones are the alcohol adverts on billboards throughout capital city Phnom Penh. The majority of these billboard adverts feature alcohol products and only a few depict COVID-19 prevention messages, Prime Minister Hun Sen warning against corruption and other educational messages.
Sophea, a teacher in Phnom Penh thinks it would be better if the alcohol advertisements on billboards were removed.
We could change the beer signage to images of the King or key words by Prime Minister Hun Sen,” said Sophea, a teacher in Phnom Penh, as per The Phnom Penh Post.
Tourist destinations from around the country should also be displayed, especially as we are expecting an influx of international visitors for next year’s SEA Games. If we promote the potential of our many tourist attractions, we will raise awareness of them among potential return visitors.”Sophea, teacher in Phnom Penh
Sophea points to Kampong Speu Province’s policy of removing beer advertisements and says this could have a positive effect in all of Cambodia.
It [removing beer advertisements in Kampong Speu Province] has made a contribution to reducing the number of people consuming alcohol. Promotions which advertise that prizes can be won by consuming more beers are especially dangerous,” added Sophea, a teacher in Phnom Penh, as per The Phnom Penh Post.Sophea, teacher in Phnom Penh
Big Alcohol’s exploitation of culture and religion
Big Alcohol has a history of disregarding community and cultural values when advertising alcohol products. it is the same in Cambodia where about 90% of people are Buddhist. As per Buddha’s teachings, people are encouraged to live free from alcohol and other intoxicating substances. Buddha had prescribed five precepts for the followers as the minimal moral observances: abstinence from killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, false speech, and use of intoxicants.
Beer brands are also using Khmer ancient temples as logos which further disrespects Cambodian people and their history. Manet, a Phnom Penh resident in his mid-30s, fears that in the future foreigners may think these ancient Khmer temples which are cultural treasures are only beer logos.
Cultural treasures, such as famous temples, are stamped on beer cans,” said Manet, a Phnom Penh resident in his mid-30s, as per The Phnom Penh Post.
What would happen if, for example, someone in the future searched for the term Angkor Wat and the image search revealed nothing but beer bottles? Some people may believe that Angkor Wat is not a temple, but a beer company logo.”Manet, Phnom Penh resident in his mid-30s
Yong Kim Eng, president of the People’s Centre for Development and Peace (PDP Centre) – a Movendi International member organization – says that the small revenue earned by the government from tax on alcohol advertisements, is not worth the cost. Instead he believes that billboards should be used to showcase real scenery from around the Kingdom to visitors. This could potentially earn more revenues through tourism and returning tourists.
According to a representative of the Ministry of Commerce, Phnom Penh’s City Hall is in charge of advertising hoardings and billboards. Similar to revenue collection, the trade ministry has no control over it. He stated that in the past, the ministry had to ask Capital Hall for authorization before erecting signs promoting trade shows.
Alcohol harm and Big Alcohol policy interference in Cambodia
As evident from World Health Organization data, per capita alcohol use has been on the rise in Cambodia since 2010. Cambodian men who consume alcohol have a very high per capita consumption level of 27.4 liters. The most commonly consumed alcohol product is beer, driven by the global beer giants’ growing presence, including through marketing, in the country.
Despite the rising alcohol use and harm, alcohol-related public health policy-making in Cambodia has been flawed. As previously reported by Movendi International, in 2015, Cambodia drafted one of the best Alcohol Regulation laws in the region. However, after that, the government stopped talking about the law, and no one offered an explanation for why it was never passed.
Corporate political activity: interference against evidence-based alcohol policy solutions
One major reason for this stalling of national alcohol policy making in Cambodia is Big Alcohol policy interference.
Yong Kim Eng explains the main reason for 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.
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. This is a well-known tactic of Big Alcohol globally.
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.
Meanwhile, a UNDP report from last year stated that an average of 5.4 people die on Cambodia’s roads daily, with 13,700 injuries and more than 2,000 deaths due to traffic accidents in 2019 . The cost to the economy was significant, it said, an estimated $466.8 million.
Kong Ratanak, director at the Institute for Road Safety, believes part of the problem is the absence of an alcohol law.
We urge the government to speed up the law because the increased distribution of alcohol is a high risk for public health, especially for the young generation,” said Kong Ratanak, director at the Institute for Road Safety, as per Camboja News.Kong Ratanak, director, Institute for Road Safety
Thanks to advocacy by PDP Centre and communities, the Cambodian government has renewed their interest in adopting the alcohol law including a minimum legal age for alcohol use.
Mr. Kim Eng and the people and communities the PDP Centre works 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.
Camboja News: “Cambodia’s growing alcohol industry raises concerns, as liquor law remains stalled“
The Phnom Penh Post: “Fresh calls to replace beer, alcohol ads in Phnom Penh“