Drinking increases despite price hike

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- An average Mongolian consume approximately 52.5 liters of alcoholic beverages annually -

Alcoholic beverages have been around for centuries and millennia. At first, it was used for medicinal and religious purposes in Mongolia, but now, it seems to be mainly used for intoxication and recreation.

In addition to significant health, social and economic burden on the society at large, the harmful use of alcohol can also result in harm to other people, such as family members, friends, coworkers and strangers, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Studies suggest that worldwide, three million deaths result from harmful use of alcohol every year, which represents 5.3 percent of all deaths. More than three quarters of these deaths were among men. Overall, the harmful use of alcohol accounts for more than five percent of the global disease burden.

“The average daily consumption of people who drink alcohol is 33 grams of pure alcohol a day, roughly equivalent to two glasses (each of 150 ml) of wine, a large (750 ml) bottle of beer or two shots (each of 40 ml) of spirits,” WHO reported in September 2018.

“Worldwide, more than a quarter (27 percent) of all 15 to 19-year-olds are current drinkers. School surveys indicate that, in many countries, alcohol use starts before the age of 15 with very small differences between boys and girls. Worldwide, 45 percent of the total recorded alcohol is consumed in the form of spirits. Beer is the second alcoholic beverage in terms of pure alcohol consumed (34 percent), followed by wine (12 percent). There have been only minor changes in preferences of alcoholic beverages since 2010.”

The WHO has been urging countries to do more to reduce the health and social costs of the harmful use of alcohol. Proven cost-effective actions include increasing taxes on alcoholic drinks, bans or restrictions on alcohol advertising, and restricting the physical availability of alcohol, according to Vladimir Poznyak, coordinator of WHO’s Management of Substance Abuse unit.

Mongolia has been enforcing the Law to Combat Alcoholism since 2000 to regulate alcohol consumption and production. The country also launched the National Program on Alcohol Prevention and Control from 2003 to 2012, which resulted in a cut down in alcoholism and raised excise tax on alcoholic beverages.

Half of men and third of women drink

Despite some improvements over the last decade, alcoholism is still a big issue in Mongolia, silently killing the population.

According to surveys by the National Statistical Office (NSO) and the police, half of all men between the ages of 15 and 54 who were surveyed and a third of women between the ages of 15 and 49 drank alcohol at least once a month.

An adult Mongolian drinks approximately 52.5 liters of alcoholic beverage annually as of 2018, according to studies. It also suggests that Mongolians have been drinking 1.9 times more beer and 1.6 times more alcohol since 2008. Experts evaluated that on average, an adult consumes two bottles of alcohol (0.5 liter), six cans of beer (0.5 liter), and a glass of wine (100 milliliter) a month.

NSO underlined that the consumption of alcoholic drinks continued to rise in Mongolia although prices of such products had been gradually rising. Since consumption isn’t diminishing even with price increases, it is clear that people will consume more and more alcoholic beverages regardless of changes in production or supply, opined an expert.

Sobering up

The number of people sent to sobering up houses a day has declined from 338 people in 2013 to 235 people in 2018, the police announced.

According to statistics, the most number of people sent to sobering up houses in 2018 were reported in Ulaanbaatar where nearly half of the national population reside. The least number of drunk people were reported in Govi-Altai (332 people) provinces.

Comparing statistics of 2018 to 2013, the number of people sent to sobering up houses became five times lower in Umnugovi and Sukhbaatar provinces, and three times lower in Govi-Altai and Uvurkhangai provinces.

Out of a total of 85,800 inebriated people who needed sobering up, 4,600 were repeat “customers”.

2018 highlights of sobering up houses

  1. People aged above 15 made up 3.7 percent of all people sent to sobering up houses.
  2. The majority (92.5 percent) of people sent to sober up were men. Over half the people sent to sobering up houses were between the ages of 25 and 39. In 2018, five children under the age of 15 were admitted to a sobering up house.
  3. Nine out of 10 people at sobering up houses had consumed a moderate amount of alcohol.
  4. Among all drunken offenders, 55 percent were taken to sobering houses from a building or apartment, 33.5 percent from the street, and 4.2 percent from bars and other entertainment venues.
  5. Eight out of 10 forcefully admitted drunken people caused disturbance while one in 10 people committed a criminal offence.
  6. 5.8 percent of people admitted to a sobering house drove under the influence of alcohol.
  7. 76.1 percent of those admitted had secondary education, 12.9 percent incomplete secondary education, 4.5 percent had acquired higher education, 2.1 percent had elementary education, and one percent had no education.
  8. By occupation, 80.8 percent of those admitted were unemployed, 6.3 percent runs a private business, and 1.4 percent were public workers.
  9. The highest number of people are sent to sobering houses on Tuesdays and Saturdays.

Alcohol production in Mongolia

Mongolia classifies the production of alcoholic drinks in the economic category of drink production. In 2017, alcoholic beverages amounting to 671 billion MNT was produced and its sales reached 740.9 billion MNT, according to NSO. This means that alcoholic drink production became four times higher than in 2008 and sales shot up by five folds since then.

However, in terms of total domestic production, alcoholic beverages make up a small percentage, only making up 4.6 percent of total productions from 2008 to 2017. The sales of these beverages make up 5.8 percent of the national sales.

A study on the current situation of alcoholic beverage consumption and production was conducted by NSO and the Ulaanbaatar Police Department’s Information Analysis and Emergency Control Division in 2018. The study shows that the total physical quantity of beverage production reached 391.8 million liters in 2017. This was mainly attributed to 4.1 times higher beer production and 3.2 times higher production of drinking water and soft drinks since 2008. Meanwhile, alcoholic drink production increased by 1.9 folds and spirit production by 1.1 times, but wine production fell by a whopping 47.8 percent in the reference period.

A good news is that the proportion of alcoholic drinks in the beverage production industry has been steadily declining over the years. In particular, alcoholic drinks made up 61.2 percent of the total physical quantity of beverages produced in Mongolia in 2000, but nearly halved to 33.6 percent in 2008, and then, dropped to 29.4 percent in 2017.

Water, soft drinks and alcoholic beverages raised 700 USD in export in 2018, up by 9.3 percent since 2008, while drinks worth 51,500 USD was imported, also up by 53.8 percent since 2008. In terms of physical quantity, all beverages exported amounted to 451,400 liters, increasing by 1.9 times over the past decade. NSO reported that this increase was mainly due to the export of beers, which became 36 times higher.

Meanwhile, the physical quantity of imported beverages reached 38.9 million liters in 2018, decreasing by 3.2 percent in the past decade. Imported beer volume fell by 64.1 percent to result in this 3.2 percent decline, according to NSO. Nevertheless, imports of alcoholic beverages continued to increase over the years, becoming seven times higher by the end of 2018. Wines imported to Mongolia reportedly jumped by 17.8 percent.

International experts agree that alcohol consumption is a causal factor in more than 200 diseases and health conditions. Drinking alcohol is associated with a risk of developing health problems such as mental and behavioral disorders, including alcohol dependence, major non-communicable diseases such as liver cirrhosis, and some cancers and cardiovascular diseases.

The local police identified that inappropriate drinking can lead to criminal offences, domestic violence, unintentional and intentional injuries, including those due to road traffic crashes, violence, and suicides. It was also pointed out that fatal alcohol-related injuries tend to occur in relatively younger age groups.

Taking into account all of these adverse consequences and risk factors associated with alcohol, it is necessary to cut down alcohol consumption and promote responsible drinking. Alcohol is also specifically mentioned under Health Target 3.5 of the Sustainable Development Goals: “Strengthen the prevention and treatment of substance use, including narcotic drug abuse and harmful use of alcohol”.

Some of the cost-effective and long-term recommendations for reducing the harmful use of alcohol are listed below:

Regulating prices of alcoholic beverages – Before the 1990s, the average price of alcoholic beverages was 74 MNT per liter, which is 43 MNT higher than the price of bread at the time. This high price ensured low consumption and sales of alcoholic beverages, according to NSO. By raising excise tax on alcoholic beverages, Mongolia could prevent alcoholism in the long run.

Setting restrictions that affect consumption:

  1. Enforce a general standard for stores and markets licensed to sell and serve alcoholic drinks.
  2. Limit the hours alcohol can be served or sold and improve supervision of alcohol ban.
  3. Correlate the fee of sobering up houses with consumer price index. (Sobering up houses have been charging 4,150 MNT a day since 2007)

Raising awareness of public health problems caused by harmful use of alcohol and ensuring support for effective alcohol policies:

  1. Improve the general health database, make people being admitted to sobering up houses undergo health training, and intensify measures aimed to support socially-beneficial jobs.
  2. Take progressive measures to provide age-specific knowledge and information about the harmful use of alcohol, promote responsible drinking and provide accessible and affordable treatment for people with alcohol-use disorders.

Dulguun Bayarsaikhan