Concerns raised over threat to national alcohol policy

The National Authority on Tobacco and Alcohol (NATA) says it has taken note of statements made by some interested parties, including certain legislators and the consequent potential threats with regard to the national alcohol policy and its implementation.

The NATA Board noted that it is imperative that the issue be addressed in a sensible and comprehensive manner in the national interest.

In the opinion of NATA, in the midst of these contradictions with Government policy, it would be very helpful we could prevent any attempts by motivated individuals and institutions from influencing key policy makers as it could be interpreted as representing a policy change on alcohol within the Government.

The main point NATA wishes to place on record is that, unlike in the Western countries, in Sri Lanka almost 70% of the population totally abstain from alcohol.

“Therefore the most important objective of our alcohol policy and any taxation formula should be to maintain this group in the same situation. The second main objective should be to prevent initiation into alcohol of the young and the school children. Any reduction of the taxes on soft liquor will threaten the above situation. If people are drinking hard liquor in excessive amounts the obvious solution is not to reduce the price of beer and other soft liquor
but to increase the prices of the hard liquor,” NATA said.

NATA also says the statement that the Government would be losing a significant amount of revenue by increasing taxes on alcohol is incorrect.

As NATA and the Ministry of Health have shown with hard evidence the health care costs and the loss of income due to productivity losses together are significantly more than money that is earned as alcohol taxes (106 billion VS 142 billion rupees in 2015).

NATA also says the statement that keeping liquor shops closed on Poya days leads to a loss of revenue is without any
evidence what so ever.

“This statement is also inappropriate when we consider the psychological and culturally symbolic value of this decision. Certainly it is not going to have a significant adverse effect on our tourism. It is not a credible argument that a significant number of tourists would refrain from visiting Sri Lanka if the bars are kept closed on Poya days. This is a red herring,” NATA said.

NATA also said that the belief that reducing the taxes on beer and wine will help to curtail the production of illicit liquor is another myth.

“Reducing the taxes on beer and wine will lead to a situation where they will serve as “gateway drinks” for the school children and will subsequently pave the way for them being introduced to hard liquor. This has been observed in many countries. Further in terms of alcohol in the body system, the form of  the drink is immaterial. Illicit liquor is best controlled by more stringent policing and through the excise personnel as is clearly seen in those areas where they are more vigilant and proactive,” NATA added.

The NATA Board is of the opinion that given the opportunity it should be possible to explain and convince the relevant policy makers of the inevitable adverse effects of a move to reduce taxes further.  (Colombo Gazette)


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