We need a sober debate on alcohol control Bill

Many people consume alcohol to forget their problems. Photo/file

What you need to know:

The issue: Alcoholic Drinks Control Bill.

Our view: Players at either end of the divide have to push for a meeting of minds. Anything less will keep the country in a bad place. Let us have a sober debate.

The science could not be more unequivocal: Alcohol is pernicious in its consequences, with the consumption volume and pattern of drinking determining the measure of the impact. The effects of large-scale drinking are particularly, excuse the pun, sobering. The disease burden, the attributable deaths, effect on intellect, and emotional damage inflicted on families, to mention but four, are there for all to see.

All of which makes it difficult to argue with the conclusion that alcohol control policies, if any, need to be revised. The effort in Uganda especially needs to be refocused, with a World Health Organization (WHO) study establishing that 75 percent of our population regularly engages in varying levels of alcohol consumption. That the vast bulk of culprits are young adults aged between 18 and 35—productive years by any measure—is disconcertingly bad.

It feels wrong to turn a blind eye to the fact that, as a country, we collectively consume 12.21 litres of pure alcohol. To contextualise that per capita consumption of pure alcohol, WHO puts one litre at about 59 drinks.  The story that the numbers of high-functioning alcoholics in our country tells is disturbing at many levels. A little over three million people in Uganda struggle with alcohol use disorders. Thousands die annually from alcohol-related cancers like mouth, throat, liver, and breast cancer.

Small wonder, we find lots of purpose in the Alcoholic Drinks Control Bill that was belatedly tabled in the House last week. Sarah Opendi, the Tororo District Woman lawmaker who is the brain behind the Bill, should be commended for showing forbearance and understanding of the delicacy of fine judgements. She has started a conversation that ought not to be treated casually.

Uganda has a colossal drinking problem that cannot be wished away. The need to reduce total population-level consumption of alcohol cannot be stressed enough. WHO statistics indicate that nearly 50 percent of males in Uganda aged 15 and above and 25 percent of women in the same age group partake of alcohol. That six out of 10 of these are binge drinkers is deeply disturbing.

We proffer this mindful of the tireless efforts that players in the alcohol industry have made insofar as urging their clients to drink responsibly and in moderation. We are also alive to the fact that a lot of the alcohol consumed in Uganda is of illicit brews, and that, besides being dangerous, it has tended to elude the gaze of the taxman and other regulators.

It is therefore vitally important that the Opendi Bill acknowledges all this, with the sole goal of weeding out rogue elements. Players that are green-lit should also make an effort to warm up to control measures that we hope will be rejigged to lose the punitive and prescriptive garb they currently wear.

Players at either end of the divide have to push for a meeting of minds. Anything less will keep the country in a bad place. Let us have a sober debate

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