Raising taxes on alcohol sale only leads to fronting, selling and leasing of already existing licenses at higher prices.
This was discussed in the seminar on Alcohol Use and Abuse in Bhutan last week where data presented showed that despite raising taxes on the sale, alcohol consumption remains the same.
An official from Department of Trade (DoT) under the economic affairs ministry (MoEA), Kuenzang Dorji, said that as per the alcohol regulation act, the only means right now to restrict alcohol consumption is through raising taxes.
Therefore the economic affairs ministry (MoEA) is planning to ban alcohol use since the alcohol regulation act does not prohibit but merely restricts consumption alcohol consumption.
However he said banning of alcohol completely will be difficult since it was once tried in the year 1999 by the ministry unsuccessfully.
The government lifted the ban in 2007. “If the issuance of license is stopped, people may challenge us saying that the right to profession is debarred”, he said adding therefore that licenses for alcohol sale is not a fool-proof solution.
“We have to come up with other alternatives,” he said.
However, a participant from Army Welfare Project (AWP) said that tax revisions never helped. “Collections before and after tax revisions have always been the same; in fact taxes in the last six months amounted to Nu 52 mn.”
One of the key factors which leads to alcohol consumption as discussed in the workshop was encouragement from the environment. “So we should be targeting the environment rather than going for alcohol directly,” said the Director General of National Statistical Bureau (NSB).
Per capita alcohol consumption in 2010 was 8.47 liters in Bhutan whereas globally it was 6.2 liters.
Most people go for cosmopolitan drinks such as spy, peach wine, and Figuria. “People go for beer rather than ara since it is diluted and stronger,” said one of the participants.
The most popular brand at present is ‘Rock Bee’; earlier it used to be ‘Black Mountain’.
“Alcohol promotes drug use so the youth shouldn’t have access to alcohol”, said another participant.
About 90% of the Bhutanese population consumes alcohol. The strength of ara and bangchang consumption is 35% and 25% respectively.