One ban, other lifts

The laws in Bhutan sometimes become a trivial matter. With the advent of democracy, one political party coming into power frames one law and the next party changes it or roots out. Currently, this is a matter of concern with the lift of the alcohol ban. In an ongoing session, the National Assembly (NA) passed the motion to lift the ban on issuing bar licenses with most members supporting the motion.

It was the same with the tobacco ban.

In 2010, the government banned the issuance of bar licenses reasoning that the alcohol-related health risk was rising which led to more public health expenditure. Of course, the result is to be judged that the ban brought a positive impact.

Despite the government’s effort to control alcohol abuses, it remains a major challenge. The cases of alcohol-related diseases like liver disease continue to be the leading cause of death in the country. Over 514 alcohol liver patients died between 2015 to 2017.

There are about 4,500 bar licenses in the country today, making at least one alcohol outlet for every 134 Bhutanese. The per capita alcohol intake among Bhutanese is 8.47 liters, higher than the global average of 6.2 liters.

Even after the ban on issuance of new bar licenses since 2010, Bhutan continued to spend more than Nu 26 million annually to treat alcohol-related liver diseases.

The matter of fact is that we have failed to bring sensible solutions to address alcohol-related liver diseases. It is still the biggest health issue in the country.

In the motion moved by Athang-Thedtsho MP Kinley Wangchuk, 37 members voted ‘yes’, three ‘no’, and one abstained out of 41 sitting members in the House.

The rationale to lift the restriction on the issue of bar licenses is that there was no reduction in consumption of alcohol, but has increased illegal sales of alcohol, fronting, and the unethical license trade and operation of many illegal bars.

The noble wisdom from the field was not supported. Health Minister Dechen Wangmo shared that lifting the ban on bar licenses would impact the health of the people and health expenditure incurred because of treatment of alcohol-related diseases.

There are proven links between the sale and consumption of alcohol and violent crime, motor vehicle accidents, and other medical emergencies.

Weighing to balance the illegal alcohol business, the ban was lifted. Now, what could be the result of free alcohol operation?