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General News
Booze - Do Ghanaians Drink Too Much? 4/12/2007
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, 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. Putting aside its adrenalin raising powers, it appears that poverty, and not the immediacy of the efficacy of the drink that drives many to gulp the over 40% alcohol content stuff. In Accra and other urban centres, “drinking spots” are a growth industry, sprouting at the most unlikely places and in great numbers. Semi-rural and rural settings are not lagging behind in this growth industry.

Though akpeteshie may be the preferred tipple of poor people, but the rising numbers of drinking spots also in a sense, show a growing economy, because the drinking spots often go hand in hand with restaurants or at the least, a kebab seller, which all go to add to the national income! It is not only akpeteshie which is the menace, but also the many beers, coolers, breezers and other harsh spirits that make up the competition. Many Ghanaian men and women now carry bulging tummies, which health/nutrition experts have put down not only to the high fat and carbohydrate foods they gorge, but the inordinate amounts of beer they guzzle.

Tellingly, it was at a drinking spot in Kumasi that assailants murdered a radio journalist last year. A writer recently suggested that akpeteshie would have been refined, had Ghana’s colonial masters not outlawed it, as it was cheap and competing with Scotch whisky and brandy - drinks that were used as bait for natural resources from our illiterate chiefs.

Today, akpeteshie is still cheaper and it is probably the only drink that is drunk with a frowned face while at the same time thumping one’s chest as if to hold at bay the burning that goes with the gulp! What is a worse, variants of this menacing local gin are being produced and approved by the regulatory bodies because producers proclaim their apparent therapeutic powers. This position may be construed as being biased against the growth of local industry, but the quest is for formalization and re-branding of the production process of this ‘star-studded’ local liquor.

Thankfully, with the benefit of globalization 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 advertisement 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. Implement 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 FDB and other stakeholders in the Ghanaian alcohol industry are expected to be part of a national conference on business regulations later in the year, to seek broad consensus on the way forward. The issue is not one of a total ban on the production, sale and consumption of alcohol – a near impossible feat – but adopting a balanced view, accepting its socialising and even possible therapeutic properties while at the same time finding as much fault as possible in its intemperate use.

This article was originated by Franklin Cudjoe ( franklin@imanighana.orgThis e-mail address is being protected from spam bots, you need JavaScript enabled to view it ), 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.

This article was originated by Franklin Cudjoe of IMAMI with additional notes by ADM

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