The average age of alcohol initiation has come down from 28 in the 1980s to 19 today, comparable to the average age of initiation for tobacco consumption that stands at 15 now.
The rising income level of youngsters is one of the major reasons for increasing consumption of alcohol, experts observed during the release of Alcohol Atlas of India, a first of its kind effort by the Indian Alcohol Policy Alliance (IAPA).
The Atlas also indicates towards greater use by women and the unfortunate social acceptance. One major point drawn is that the cost of management is much higher than revenues.
Quoting a survey by NIMHANS, Bangalore, Union Health Minister Anbumani Ramadoss on Tuesday said alcohol has become one of the gravest public health issues. “Alcohol is not just a health problem; it is a social and a public health problem,” he said and announced the government will come up with a National Alcohol Policy soon.
“The National Alcohol Policy will be on the lines of National Tobacco Policy. (Even though) prohibition is a state subject … the states can adopt the policy. India will also push for a World No Alcohol Day on October 2 at the forthcoming World Health Assembly to be held in May. Last time when we tried to raise the alcohol issue, richer countries opposed it. We are hopeful, this time round, we are able to convince, Ramadoss said.
Apart from stating that average age of initiation has reduced to 19, the national survey conducted by NIMHAS has also revealed that among adult men, about 21 per cent were current drinkers and about 17 per cent were regular users of alcohol. Also, among those seeking treatment, about 44 per cent were alcohol users.
“The youngsters today are seized by four problems — tobacco, alcohol, drugs and junk food. Article 47 of the Constitution clearly mentions the state’s responsibility towards prohibition. Only Gujarat, Jammu & Kashmir, Manipur and Mizoram follow it. Why can’t other states follow?” he asked.
Earlier, IAPA chairperson Dr Arul Rhaj said, “Alcohol is a drug. Efforts are on to bring it to be sold only through medical stores.”
Chairman Global Alcohol Policy Alliance Derek Rutherford pointed out that in Europe, compared with drinkers from higher socio-economic group, lower socio-economic group has lower mortality rates from alcohol related conditions. The same is applicable to Indian scenario.
The most recent data about alcohol use as per National Family Health Survey III (published in September 2007) shows that about 32 per cent were current users of alcohol and between 4 and 13 per cent were daily users.
The proportion of users among rural and urban population is very similar (32 per cent and 31 per cent, respectively), the data revealed.