India has formally requested the World Health Organisation to declare October 2 — Mahatma Gandhi's birthday — as World No Alcohol Day and introduce global restrictions on alcohol sale, advertising and consumption, similar to those against tobacco. If that happens, international flights may have to stop serving alcohol and pubs would turn into salad bars.
“We have written to the WHO director general Dr Margaret Chan requesting her to enact a law against alcohol similar to the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control that has the global mandate to counter tobacco use and reduce its deadly toll. Alcohol is as bad for people as tobacco, so the restrictions should be the same,” says Health Minister Anbumani Ramadoss, who lately included alcohol in his list of things healthy India can do without.
“Along with junk food and smoking, alcohol is a leading cause of avoidable death and accidents. I know some people resent my speaking on these issues, but if I as health minister can't talk about them, who can?” says Ramadoss, raising fears that similar restrictions would next be imposed on chips and colas.
The Indian delegation will further raise the issue and lobby for support at the week-long World Health Assembly in Geneva beginning May 19, which has a special session on strategies to reduce the harmful use of alcohol.
About 2 billion people worldwide consume alcohol, which causes 1.8 million deaths a year, which represents 3.2 per cent of all deaths worldwide. According to WHO, accidents related to alcohol consumption account for roughly a third of alcohol deaths.
A study by Bangalore-based NIMHANS has shown the average age of initiation has reduced from 28 years during the 1980s to 20 years. According to the National Family Health Survey (NFHS-3, 2007), 32 per cent adults are current alcohol users and between 4 and 13 per cent have alcohol daily. The proportion of alcohol consumption among rural and urban India is very similar.