NGOs and Government Officials Discuss Alcohol Abuse

A day after the Ministry of Health released a plan to reduce alcohol use—with particular emphasis on youth consumption—a convenience store on Street 51 Tuesday was selling the Korean alcoholic beverage Soju, which contains 19 percent alcohol, alongside tea and energy drinks, and pineapple Vodka Cruisers were surrounded by other soft drinks.

About 20 government and NGO representatives met Monday in Phnom Penh to discuss ways to reduce alcohol consumption in the country, and the Ministry of Health released its five-year plan to regulate advertising, drinking among youth, conduct research on social issues arising from drinking and improve public awareness on the dangers of alcohol.

Pom Sichan, a CPP senator who attended the Global Alcohol Policy Conference in Seoul from October 7 to 9, said that Cambodia along with 54 other countries had agreed at the summit to strengthen its alcohol laws.

“Advertisements should be broadcast at night when children are asleep, and not during the daytime,” Ms. Sichan added.

The ministry’s report says: “Researches [sic] indicate that there [is] evidence of exposures to alcohol advertising and the onset of drinking amongst non-drinking youth, and increased levels of consumption among existing youth drinkers.”

Yel Daravuth, national professional officer for tobacco-free initiative, substance abuse and health promotion at the World Health Organization (WHO), said Tuesday that fewer alcohol advertisements would effectively limit consumption.

“Advertising [is] everywhere, newspaper, TV—It is very misleading and has made a lot of youth to start drinking alcohol,” he said.

But the Health Ministry’s plan points out that Cambodia currently does not have legislation to regulate alcohol advertising, though the Ministry of Information issued a directive in 2011 to regulate alcohol advertisements that include prizes and free gifts, but says “Nonetheless, the implementations of these regulations are limited.”

Thach Phen, secretary of state at the Ministry of Information, said at Monday’s event that his ministry is working on policies to control advertisements.

“We have to educate people about the impact of alcohol, since we can’t ban alcohol,” he said.

Ms. Sichan said that Cambo­dia should follow recommendations made at the Seoul summit by focusing on enforcing the legal age for purchasing alcohol, 18, and raising taxes.

“We must increase taxes on alcohol and not sell to teenagers,” she said.

Yong Kim Eng, executive director of the People’s Center for Development and Peace, which deals with public health, said Tuesday that NGOs present at the discussion called for higher taxes on alcohol to make it less affordable, and said he supported raising the drinking age to 21.

“We encourage the government and other organizations to form a law banning young people under 21 years old from drinking alcohol,” he said.

The ministry also says taxation can be an effective way to deter people from drinking.

“The Royal Government of Cambodia is taking into accounts the need to increase tax on alcohol products,” the plan says, adding that with the help of the World Bank and WHO, tax on alcohol was in­creased from 20 to 25 percent in 2010.

The WHO’s Mr. Daravuth said that he thought the ministry’s plan was a step in the right direction, “but we learn that when we have a plan, we have to take the plan to action,” he said.

(Additional reporting by Janelle Kohnert)

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