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[MANILA] Increasing alcohol consumption in low- and middle-income countries may result in missing global targets to reduce alcohol abuse, says a new study.
 
Published this month (May) in The Lancet, the study pooled data from 189 countries to show that consumption had increased from 5.9 litres of pure alcohol per year per adult in 1990 to 6.5 litres in 2017 and is projected to increase further to 7.6 litres by 2030.

“A weakness, which other countries can learn from, was a legal loophole that allows corporate logos to be used to publicise good work and sponsorship and the failure to prohibit brand stretching — the use of logos identified with alcohol for non-alcohol product”

Sally Casswell, Global Alcohol Policy Alliance

In most regions around the world, the volume of alcohol consumed is growing faster than the number of drinkers. Thus, per capita consumption of alcohol is expected to grow by 17.8 per cent globally by 2030, while the number of drinkers is expected to grow by just five per cent within that timeframe. 
 
Alcohol is a major risk factor for health and is causally linked to over 200 diseases, in particular non-communicable diseases and injuries. While the WHO aims to reduce harmful alcohol use by ten per cent by 2025, alcohol intake from 2010 to 2017 increased by 34 per cent in the Asia Pacific region, with India and Vietnam marking the most notable recent increases, according to the Lancet report.
 
Jürgen Rehm, senior scientist at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto, Canada, and an author of the report, tells SciDev.Net that there are several factors for rising alcohol consumption in India and Vietnam, starting with rapid economic growth in these countries.  
 
Rehm also blames lack of policy on alcohol consumption. In the case of India, there is also state interest in increased consumption since taxes on alcohol contribute to state revenue in some provinces. Other reasons cited by Rehm were lack of religious restrictions and the association of alcohol with prosperity among emerging middle classes.
 
In Thailand, where alcohol consumption has also increased, the government has been implementing a comprehensive alcohol control act since 2008. Key elements of this act are the minimum legal drinking age of 18 years, restriction on hours and days of alcohol sale, a ban on drinking in specific places and a ban on direct advertising and promotion of alcoholic drinks.
 
Sally Casswell, chair of the Global Alcohol Policy Alliance, tells SciDev.Net that because of support from the Thai Health Promotion Foundation — an independent state agency funded by a two per cent surcharge on tobacco and alcohol excise taxes —  plus energetic grassroots movements and engaged researchers, there has been progress in alcohol control.  
 
“Recently, the issue of indirect promotions of alcohol by 'influencers' in…social media was prioritised, resulting in stronger enforcement of [the groups’] advertising regulation,” says Casswell. “However, a weakness, which other countries can learn from, was a legal loophole that allows corporate logos to be used to publicise good work and sponsorship and the failure to prohibit brand stretching — the use of logos identified with alcohol for non-alcohol products.”
 
In the Philippines, increasing female consumption of alcohol and binge drinking are concerns, says Rehm. The study estimates that by 2030, while 30 per cent of men are expected to binge drink, the number of women binge drinkers may hit 11 per cent — up from eight per cent in 1990. Monitoring alcohol use is part of several international programmes, including the WHO’s Global Action Plan for the Prevention and Control of NCDs 2013 to 2020, the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals and the WHO’s Global Strategy to Reduce the Harmful Use of Alcohol.
 
The Lancet study calls for effective policy measures to be introduced globally, such as the WHO ‘best-buys’, including increasing taxation, restricting availability and banning alcohol marketing and advertising.
 
The study estimates that by 2030 half of all adults globally will drink alcohol, and almost a quarter will binge drink at least once a month.
 
This piece was produced by SciDev.Net’s Asia & Pacific desk.