Impact of COVID-19 on Alcohol, Myths About Consumption Of Alcohol During COVID-19 And the Need To Increase Taxes

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Many of us believe that alcohol prohibition and Alcohol ban have the same meaning. In reality alcohol prohibition denotes that the making, selling, transporting and distribution of any type of alcohol as an illegal act. Ban is for limited time which can be in the form of dry days or some emergency. The transportation and distribution do not stop only selling is then prohibited. This article talks about the impact of COVID-19 on alcohol, myths about the consumption of alcohol during COVID and the need of the government to increase the taxes.

Impact of COVID-19

According to a report by WHO (2016) annual per capita consumption of alcohol in India is 5.7lt. With the lockdown coming in effect many regular customers were affected. Their consumptions were halted and the lockdown extension affected the manufacturers. Countries like South Africa completely banned sale and import of alcohol. While countries like France, Greenland banned alcohol where number of cases were higher. Other countries like U.S and U.K included wine and spirit stores in the list of ‘essential’ businesses.

Edelweiss a beer making company surveyed its Indian customers during lockdown. According to the survey 80% respondents said they have reduced their cigarette consumption. Over two third have gone away with their bad habit. The reasons that were then cited by them include of not smoking at home and unavailability of their preferred brands.

According to analysts at Edelweiss, this will change consumer habits in the near time. Due to the lockdown the supply chains were further disrupted. This made the manufactures like John breweries to sell alcohol based sanitisers. The reasons were the dip in revenue and it being coming under the essential items. Coming to the negative side many people experienced withdrawals. In the extreme cases people committed suicide due to unavailability. Kerala being at the top position where people committed suicide. Followed by Tamil Nadu.

Myth Busters relating to Alcohol 

Methanol, ethanol, and bleach were then used as disinfectants to kill the Virus. People especially in rural areas across the country thought that drinking them would cure the virus. Actually they are poisons which harm the body. Many people also thought that drinking alcohol will protect them virus. In reality it decreases the immunity and increases the risk of other health problems.

Post-Lockdown Effects 

Due to the loss in the economic activity many governments eased their restrictions. West countries did not have a complete ban like India and south Africa. But they too were hit hard by the lockdown. In the United States, “on-trade” drinking at bars and restaurants accounts for about 20% of spirits sales and 25% for beer. After lockdown this went down to 16% due to the fear of the virus.

In India cities like Mumbai observed long queues. People made mockery of social distancing norms and started panic buying. According to the report a man purchased liquor worth rupees 52000. This was not a surprise as harsh lockdowns escalated the demand for booze.

States like Andra Pradesh, Karnataka and West Bengal were no different. Retailers observed long queues which resulted in running out of stock by 11a.m. To curb this maniac buying government like Delhi increased taxes. It introduced a new tax “Corona fee” which was 70% of MRP. This results in taxes amounting to 3.5 crore collected by the excise department.

Mumbai banned the sales once again but allowed home delivery. But in Tamil Nadu especially in district Karaikal there was an average turnout. On the other side Women in Uttarakhand protested the move. Stating that it will take a toll on already-low household incomes, joblessness and the family. Rights activists have said opening liquor shops will add to domestic violence against women, which had already increased during the lockdown period.

Was it a bad idea to regulate alcohol?

According to a 2019 report by the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), there are nearly 160 million people in India who consume alcohol. Out of whom nearly 57 million are addicted. 

At First place these addicted people will be further affected with withdrawal symptoms. This will result in increased health costs which will be incurred by the states. In the states like Kerala seven people committed suicide because of unavailability of alcohol. These incidents make States to take action which otherwise was not intended.

Second is the Revenue. The ban costs states to loose crores of revenue especially in these times where the economic activities are then halted. It is then estimated that States earn 15-30% of their revenue through taxes on alcohol. Till April 30, the estimated revenue loss from ban on sale of alcohol was Rs 24,000 crore.

The liquor industry also found itself in dire straits, as retail shops sat on unsold stock. More than a million workers were not at work. Meanwhile, in the absence of any consumers, 800,000 litres of beer found its way down the drain.

The ban on alcohol also resulted in illicit distilling and brewing across India. In Kerala at least 505 people were further arrested for brewing wash. Many retailers took the advantage and marketed the bottle thrice the MRP.

Conclusion

Under pressure from states as well as drying coffers, the Centre was further forced to lift the ban on the sale of alcohol. But long queues trigger fears of chaos, police action and spread of COVID-19. The states charging exorbitant amount of taxes is not acceptable. They should have not allowed at first place. They should not impose the ban and be like west countries. Plenty of reports by WHO were available which proved that India is an alcoholic country. Banning and the reopening will definitely trigger the problems. These are times of great uncertainty and anxiety.

We do not know when the virus will vanish. So Government and States should take judicious actions for the future.


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