Health ministry will focus on empowering citizens to make the right decisions
Following a year-long review of the harmful use of alcohol in the country by the National Council (NC) in 2019, it expressed concerns and submitted its recommendations to the government on easing access to alcohol.
Despite various concerns, including health and social problems, raised in the parliament sessions over the years, the cabinet allowed all restaurants to sell alcoholic beverages without requiring a separate bar license that now functions both as a bar and restaurant.
However, the NC says that the impacts of alcoholism due to easing access to alcohol will lead to an increased risk of long-term health and social problems for some people, especially among youths.
Eminent member Kesang Chuki Dorjee during the question hour with the health minister at the ongoing NC session said that Bhutan is already leading in the per capita drinking prevalence in the South East Asian region of the World Health Organization member countries.
According to the Ministry of Economic Affairs, 431 restaurants and 55 alcohol retail outlets applied for alcohol licenses from 1 to 7 June, bringing the total close to 17,000 alcohol outlets. This comes as one alcohol outlet for every 41 people in the country.
With this concerning trend, Kesang Chuki Dorjee also underscored the harmful impact on health and society due to easing access to alcohol.
She said liver disease is still the top non-communicable disease killer and prevalent mental health disorders such as anxiety, depression, and mental and behavioral disorders because of alcoholism in the country,” she added.
“Alcohol consumption has caused many social problems such as poverty, drinking, and driving, youth, and adolescent,” she added.
Responding to the questions, Health Minister Dasho Dechen Wangmo said that the cabinet decision comes after thorough stakeholder consultations and detailed deliberation.
Lyonpo added that the Ministry of Health (MoH) also conducted several studies to establish if the ban helps reduction in alcohol consumption.
“Various plans and programs have been in place to reduce alcohol consumption but not very comprehensive and effective,” she said, adding that the ministry met the cabinet and discussed the benefits, complications, and difficulties faced in implementing the past policies and the way forward.
Lyonpo said that the ministry will focus on empowering citizens to make the right decisions by promoting healthy lifestyles and advocacy, treatment, and palliative care.
Issuing bar licenses was stopped in 2010 because of the increasing number of alcohol-related liver diseases. However, liver disease is still the top NCD killer in the country.
Health minister Dechen Wangmo said that the alcohol liver disease problem is on the rise and the ministry is concerned about it. “But there is also a need for a proper service for alcohol addicts in the country,” she added.
Lyonpo also pointed out that while the number of bar licenses has increased in the past years, there is no evidence that consumption has also increased. “There was no significant reduction in alcohol consumption because of the ban,” she said.
In addition, she said that while the recent change in the alcohol policy resulted in increasing the number of bars, there is no evidence to prove that more bars have contributed to increased alcohol consumption.