When Mark Twain said “Whiskey is for drinking and water is for fighting”, perhaps one thing he didn't anticipate will happen when alcohol is taken in excess is its harm to the brain, liver, heart, ones's social standing and even violence as water scarcity has often led to.
It has been suggested that Ghanaians are on the verge of alcoholism, after a report estimated that 40 million gallons of the volatile local gin called 'akpetehie' are consumed annually. Particularly worrying is its insidious use by dissenting students to wreak havoc on school property during demonstrations. Aside its adrenalin powers, it appears that poverty, and not the immediacy of the efficacy of the drink that drive many to gulp the over 40% alcohol content stuff.
A writer recently suggested that our 'akpeteshie'would have been refined, had our colonial masters not outlawed it, as it was cheap and competing with Scottish Whiskey and Brandy--drinks that were used as baits for natural resources from our illiterate chiefs. Today, akpeteshie is still cheaper and I reckon is the only drink that one seeps with a frowned face amidst a thumbing of the chest. What is a worst, variants of this menacing local gin are being produced and approved by the Council for Scientific Study into Plant Medicine and the Food and Drugs Board (FDB) because producers proclaim their apparent therapeutic powers. My position may be construed as being biased against the growth of local industry, but my quest is for formalization and rebranding of the production process of this 'star-studded' local liquor.
Thankfully, with the benefit of globalisation and technological progress the alcohol industry has seen astonishing innovation with several alcoholic beverages making use of hops, barley and malt. Their excess consumption and age limit regulation could rest with the FDB, but the choice to consume should be left with the individual.
However, moderation in regulation is urged. The current laws regulating advertisemt of alcoholic beverage consumption needs a review. For as they stand, they are comparable to the argument that automobile commercials cause traffic accidents, the kind of argument one hears of "direct-to-consumer" advertisements for pharmaceuticals. So for instance, readers of this newspaper-who, upon seeing one, would lose their ability to make intelligent purchasing decisions.
The FDB's guidelines on alcoholic beverage advertisement (FDB GL05/AD ALC/1-2005) Clause 3.1.4, stipulates that “Radio and Television advertising shall be forbidden between the hours of 5:00 am to 10:00 pm.” Also “For every alcohol advertisement appearing on television, one public service anti-alcohol advertisement of equal length must also be aired.” The directive adds that “These advertisements must be aired within half an hour of the advertisement promoting the alcoholic beverage.”
Two effects of these adversarial rules are unavoidable- collapse of businesses related to alcoholic beverages and loss of tax revenues to the state. Giants in the alcoholic beverage industry have constantly been in the top ten and best performing companies in Ghana even in the face of our energy problems. We should not encourage the traditionalist economic view that condemns advertising as wasteful, redundant and an inefficient activity. Rather, we should realise that advertising decreases monopoly power, furnishes valuable information to consumers, and very essential to free speech in a pluralistic society.
Meanwhile, to tackle alcohol misuse in the country, the FDB could glean much from the following.
Applying stricter enforcement of age restrictions, particularly for off sales. Implementing stricter measures, such as immediate loss of license to sell alcohol, to prevent shopkeepers from selling alcohol to under age children. Develop improved alcohol awareness education campaigns for schools, starting at primary school level. Introduce a law that requires alcohol products to carry a label listing alcohol content and warnings of excessive drinking. The price of alcoholic beverages should NOT be increased arbitrarily as it will drive many into illicit alcoholism.
The good news is that the FDB realises the mockery of rules to the contrary, and will at a possible national conference on business regulations to be organized by IMANI: The Centre for Humane Education later in the year, seek broad consensus on the way forward. Right now, let us be neutral in dealing with alcoholic beverages--praising its use and finding fault in its intemperate use.
Franklin Cudjoe (franklin-at-imanighana.org) is Executive Director of Imani: The Centre for Humane Education, a think-tank based in Accra dedicated to researching economic trends to glean practical public-policy insights for the benefit of government, business and civil society in Ghana.
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