Even as India is considered as one of the major growing markets for alcohol, it has been found that the age at which young people start drinking here has declined alarmingly in successive generations. The increased intake of alcohol is taking a toll on the general well-being of people.

A consultative workshop on ‘Alcohol Taxation and Multi-Sectoral Policy Interventions to Counter the Harms Associated with Alcohol Consumption’, organised in the Capital recently, highlighted this trend. It was organised by Public Health Foundation of India (PHFI) and its partner HRIDAY, in association with the Swedish National Institute for Public Health (SNIPH) and the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm.

Inaugurating the two-day workshop, Sudhir Yadav, Delhi Police’s Special Commissioner of Police (Traffic), said that alcohol is an important area of concern, as recently highlighted by the brutal rape case of a five-year-old girl in New Delhi, where the act was committed under the influence of alcohol.

National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences professor Dr. Vivek Benegal said: “The costs incurred by the government due to alcohol attributable disability, diseases and work days lost is significantly higher as compared to the revenue generated through excise tax levied on alcohol.”

Mr. Yadav stressed on the need for comprehensive efforts to counter the physical and social harms caused by alcohol consumption. “School interventions around drunk-driving have resulted in increased awareness levels among children and their families. The Delhi Police initiated drunken-driving campaign in 2009-10 and observed a decline in incidence of drink-driving and also a decline in fatal injuries due to drink driving.”

A World Bank report of 2006 found that taxing alcohol reduces consumption and estimated that a 10 per cent increase in price reduces consumption of beer by three per cent, wine by 10 per cent and distilled spirits by as much as 15 per cent.

PHFI president Prof. K. Srinath Reddy said that alcohol as an issue calls for initiating a multi-sectoral action involving health department, police, social justice and also civil society organisations.

“In India, taxation is an underutilised tool to curb the growing alcohol menace, and this needs further research and advocacy to propose effective policy and tax reforms. An effective measure could be to promote utilisation of alcohol generated taxes to raise resources for public health and for prevention of alcohol initiation,” he said.

Researchers from India and Sweden also discussed the need to study the impact of alcohol taxation.

The workshop concluded by suggesting that increasing tax does help in reducing alcohol consumption, even in countries with illicit alcohol market.

In the recently released Global Burden of Disease study (GBD-2010), alcohol use was seen to have risen from the 6th leading risk factor for the burden of disease globally to the 3rd leading risk factor in 2010 for death and disability across the globe.

Deaths attributable to alcohol use have increased from 3.7 million to 4.8 million in this time period. Studies show that 32 per cent of Indians consume alcohol and over 10 per cent are daily users. About 30 to 35 per cent of adult men and approximately 5 per cent of adult women consume alcohol.

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