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IEA proposes new way to tackle excessive drinking

Kwame Owino
Institute of Economic Affairs CEO Kwame Owino at a past event. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

Kenya needs to develop a more comprehensive policy if its fight against illicit alcohol is to succeed, according to a new analysis of the regulation of alcohol in the country by the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA).

The policy recommendation is contained in a White Paper by the Institute of Economic Affairs and launched by the Kenya Association of Manufacturers during the summit on illicit trade.

Kwame Owino, the Institute’s Chief Executive said that their analysis had shown that the approach taken to regulate alcohol is population-based rather than targeted at reducing excessive drinking.

“Regulation of the alcohol beverage sector is through the Alcoholic Drinks Control Act, which by reducing the amount of time for drinking and limiting the advertising of alcohol, assumes that it solves the problem of heavy drinking.

"But that does not work and more people are pushed towards illicit alcohol. By suppressing one side, you go back to the other side.

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"Our licensing model actually creates barriers to market entry,” said Mr Owino.

Direct intervention

He said that a regulation model that involves direct interventions targeting individual drinkers and others aimed at specific alcohol-related problems such as drunk-driving are less likely to affect the non-problem drinker.

“Kenya’s alcohol policies should not be exclusive but should encompass a mixed approach involving Problem Directed Policies and Intervention Policies. They have been proven to work elsewhere,” said Mr Owino.

The White Paper was launched at a day-long summit on illicit trade in Kenya, with focus on the alcoholic beverages sector.

A resolution paper will be developed from the submissions made at the summit and submitted to the Treasury.

With the excess regulation that the recorded alcohol is subjected to, says IEA in the White Paper, more consumers are pushed towards the alcohol that is not officially recognised, and which bears risks for drinkers.

Unintended consequences

“In sum, excessive regulation can generate the unintended consequences of driving demand for alcoholic beverages in the informal sector and generate worse health outcomes owing to the production methods employed in the latter,” IEA says.

Wanyama Musiambo, the head of the Multi-Agency Taskforce on Enforcement of Standards has so far succeeded in clamping down on illicit products.

“We cannot say that we let people drink what they want yet the cardinal responsibility of the government is to protect Kenyans.

"If nothing else has been achieved, we have achieved public awareness and Kenyans know there is a problem of illicit trade,” said Mr Musiambo.
Mr Musiambo said the task force’s work is intelligence-led.

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