People hold glasses of beer at a restaurant in Hanoi, Vietnam June 24, 2017. Photo by Reuters
In a letter delivered to Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc recently, WHO experts said the high consumption of beer and alcohol in Vietnam was imposing a heavy burden on the country in the form of non-contagious diseases.
It expressed WHO’s support for a draft law on preventing adverse impacts of alcohol consumption that will be reviewed by lawmakers this October.
Shin Young-soo, WHO’s regional director for the Western Pacific region, said beer consumption among Vietnamese had reached an alarming rate. He said a Vietnamese adult above 15 years drinks 8.3 alcohol liters per year on average, much higher than in China (7.2 liters), Cambodia (6.7), the Philippines (6.6) and Singapore (two liters).
A study jointly conducted by Vietnam's Ministry of Health and WHO in 2016 showed that 77% of Vietnamese men drink liquor and beer, and nearly half of them drink at hazardous levels.
Nguyen Phuong Nam, a WHO official, said nearly 67% of the 1,840 traffic accident victims covered in the study had high concentrations of alcohol in their blood, and 45% had driven after drinking for two hours or more.
The letter asked the Vietnamese government to tighten controls over the production, sales and advertising of beer and alcoholic beverage to discourage drinking and protect consumers’ health.
The government should adopt tough measures to curb drinking by raising the prices of liquor and beer, restricting selling points, limiting the sale of alcoholic drinks at night and narrowing the legal drinking age, the letter said.
It said beer promotions and advertisements had negative impacts on young people. Recently, Vietnam's Health Ministry proposed an advertisement ban on beer on TV and social networks as part of the draft law, as also restricting the sale of alcohol at night, specifically after 10 p.m.
Vietnam is famous for its beer drinking culture. It is widely believed that business deals in Vietnam tend to go more smoothly over a few drinks at the negotiating table. Vietnam is the biggest beer market in Southeast Asia, consuming nearly four billion liters last year.
The country spends on average US$3.4 billion on alcohol each year, or 3 percent of the government’s budget revenue, according to official data. The figure translates to US$300 per capita, while spending on health averages US$113 per person, according to the Health Ministry.
As many as 40% of traffic accidents in Vietnam are linked to excessive drinking, according to the WHO, which it says is an alarming rate for a country where road crashes kill a person every hour, on average.