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Just Add Alcohol

December 29, 2017 07:50 AM Gunjan Upadhyay


The commercialization of holidays is a universal theme the world over and I doubt it surprises anybody anymore. In this day and age, the sort of conspicuous consumption it encourages is par for the course with festivals everywhere else and our country is no different. In Nepal, an advertising blitz is the harbinger of most festivals and, given that we tend to celebrate Easter, Christmas and almost everything in between, it comes around ever so often. Except that within this promotional onslaught is an uncomfortable subset of commercialization that I would like to refer to as ‘alcoholization’ – mainly due to lack of a better word but also partly because it rhymes neatly with commercialization. 

Nowhere in the world is a particular demographic constantly reminded – nay, encouraged – to drink to these occasions than our folks. The print coverage before Dashain, both the English and Nepali New Years, and just about any other festival, is one of relentless page to page adverts of either direct promotions of alcohol brands, or alcohol themed, or sponsored parties. In fact, you would be lucky to find a few morsels of news in between the ‘in your face’ adverts in most newspapers around the time of major festivals.  

Whatever happened to the ‘National Policy on Regulation and Control of Alcohol-2017’ that was supposed to – among other things – curb this ubiquitous advertising. I suppose there must be a powerful lobby working behind the scenes to ensure that this does not happen. Come to think of it, a policy curbing alcohol promotion surely would hit a lot of pockets – from manufacturers to advertising agencies to newspapers, right down to retail shops and restaurants with all their freebies like branded signboards and refrigerators. So, it’s safe to say that by the time the regulation comes into being (if it ever does), it will have been – pardon the pun – watered down sufficiently to make it impotent. 

This proposal to curb rampant advertising was one of the more achievable aspects of what was frankly an over ambitious policy that sought to limit sales and consumption of booze. And historically prohibiting people through legislation has hardly ever addressed the problem, whether it is in 1920’s America or in present day Gujarat or Bihar in neighbouring India. 

What our government does to ‘discourage’ the consumption of alcohol is tax the living daylights out of it, which really does nothing because the financial burden at the end of the day is simply passed on to the consumer. And yet, at the other end of the spectrum, nothing is done about all this conspicuous advertising. 

Most of these adverts on print will show gorgeous young people having a good time with their booze and yet many of them don’t even bother with the cursory ‘Drink Responsibly’ or ‘Enjoy in Moderation’ platitudes that are required in other countries. Not that it makes any difference, mind you. Even if it was in big, bold letters instead of the obscure fine print that it is usually found in. Unless warnings are specific and detailed (or graphic) à la cigarette packets, it won’t really make a difference. The proposed pictorial warnings in alcohol packaging which is part of the new policy might make drinking less appealing but, then again, it might not even be implemented if the alcohol lobby has any say on it.  

I’m certainly not advocating for a nanny state but in no other sector will you find this lack of after sales responsibility – not to individual customers but to society in general. While advertising may not encourage drinking (it’s a personal choice, after all), it sure contributes to normalizing it without acknowledging the dangers of over indulgence. Why is a company allowed to advertise noisily, with no check on their standards or claims and yet the burden of excessive drinking is supposed to be borne solely by the understaffed and under resourced police?  The burden of enforcing ‘Ma Pa Se’ really should be shared by alcohol manufacturers who should have to front up some money maybe as part of their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). If not willingly, then by law.  

The number of drunk youngsters in Thamel on Christmas night is quite enough to speak of the scale of binge drinking, which is on the rise. The government should at the very least work on education that leads to young folks making informed choices regarding alcohol. While school education can be used to condition students, it is really the home and family that the education must come from if attitudes are to change. But that remains a long-term solution. And while the onus is and always will be on all of us as individuals, it’s about time the government worked on minimizing this ‘allure’ of alcohol manufactured through all these glitzy adverts. Not everything is fun with alcohol and not everything boring without it. Maybe it’s time to get that message across. Cheers! 

The writer loves traveling, writing, and good food when he is afforded an escape from the rat race. He can be contacted at gunjan.u@gmail.com

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