Vietnam's Ministry of Health has revived a proposal to ban beer and liquor sales after 10 p.m. to combat problems like fatal road accidents caused by drunk driving.
Men drink beer during a local annual beer festival in Hanoi. Some published surveys said Vietnam is top beer-drinking nation among Southeast Asian nations. Photo: AFP
The move immediately attracted criticism, with the media quoting “experts” and “critics” as saying the ban would not reduce drunk driving or even be enforceable.
Last year a similar proposal by the ministry elicited the same howls of protest as did a proposal by the Ho Chi Minh City police in 2013.
But I think the country should have a complete booze ban rather than just after 10 p.m.
In fact, it can be said that the ministry has been too slow and hesitant in making the Beer and Alcohol Harm Prevention Bill.
Alcohol consumption in Vietnam has increased by more than 150 percent since 2003-2005 -- from 4 liters per person per year to 6.6 liters now -- and the momentum is being maintained.
More worryingly, drinking is harming the country’s prime workforce: Half of men aged 20-24 consume 8-10 units (a unit refers to alcohol contained in 200 ml of beer or 25 ml of liquor) of alcohol in a session, which is a harmful level, according to a Hanoi School of Public Health study in 2013-2015.
Traffic accidents are killing 26 people daily on average nationwide, and 75 percent of the accidents involve motorbikes. Drinking is listed among the main reasons for the motorbike accidents.
Thus, a complete alcohol ban would save thousands of lives each year, and even more from being disabled or injured.
In my opinion, all the criticism published in the media merely reflects Vietnamese people’s fear of change.
I am quite sure that none of the critics are Vietnamese women, a majority of whom have a permanent concern when their husbands go out to drink.
They wait fearing that dreaded phone call from a hospital to inform them about their husband’s injuries or, worse, death due to drunk driving.
The media has reported about many such stories of their worst fears coming true.
Thus, at least half of the public -- the women -- would totally support a booze ban, a woman told me.
Any game changing decision is bound to attract opposition and policymakers should thoroughly study the objections to see if they are reasonable concerns or nonsense put up by people who do not want to give up their drinking habit.
Years ago my friend and his colleagues were awarded a two-day trip to Vung Tau, his first, but he spent his time drinking and then bitterly complained that he did not even have a chance to swim let alone visit nearby destinations.
I’m sure most tourists do not want to spoil their trip in this fashion or, even worse, have an accident after renting a motorbike to go around town and getting drunk, something that is frequently reported in the media. |
Those opting for package tours have a tight schedule and rarely have time or energy to drink.
A late night booze ban or even a complete ban would not harm the economy, but, on the contrary, improve it by protecting workers’ health and reducing cost of treating drinking-related diseases, which include cancer.
Vietnam is only the sixth largest economy in Southeast Asia but ranks first in terms of beer and liquor consumption.
But the ban will surely hurt beer companies, which make huge profits and may consider lobbying policymakers to delay it.
Determined action needed
Authorities should work toward early approval and enforcement of a complete ban though it may attract opposition, especially from drinkers, who will however later understand its benefits.
In a country where drinking is second nature to most men, it is easy to understand why a ban attracts criticism.
Among the first words many foreigners learn after visiting Vietnam relate to drinking: Do do (yoyo) or Mot Hai Ba (one, two, three).
Virtually all Vietnamese know the “three major reasons” for drinking: happiness, sadness and being neither happy nor sad.
Last week Tri, a director of a transport company in Ho Chi Minh City, told me he was really shocked that his long-time drinking companion and business partner had died of a stroke after drinking with him the previous day.
He was telling me the story at a table after having more than 10 cans of beer.
The mandatory helmet law, which took effect in 2007, had drawn flak in the beginning over its feasibility. But it has been spectacularly well enforced.
The booze ban attracts criticism with some claiming there are not sufficient personnel to enforce the law.
But look at the helmet story. It doesn’t need 40 million traffic police officers to make sure 40 million people wear helmets while driving a motorbike.
A big fine if caught will have a deterrent effect.
To make it easier to enforce the ban, I propose also a ban on the production and import of alcohol.
* The writer, who is not averse to a tipple or two himself, lives and works in Ho Chi Minh City. The opinions expressed are his own.