Sat | Mar 6, 2021

Wide consultation planned for regulating alcohol abuse

Published:Wednesday | January 13, 2021 | 12:05 AM

With the necessary research and expert consultations out of the way, the Ministry of Health and Wellness is moving to table a working or green paper in Parliament, paving the way for public discussions on the regulation of alcohol abuse.

Health Minister Dr Christopher Tufton says he’ll be seeking the nod from Cabinet to start the process that could lead to the development of a new policy. Typically, the feedback received from a green paper would inform the drafting of a white paper, also called a policy paper, and thereafter the drafting of legislation.

“The proposed green paper will need Cabinet approval before tabling in Parliament; then will be a process of significant consultations,” the health minister said.

The move to develop a policy leading to regulations has been on the agenda of successive governments. This came after the World Health Organization, WHO, mandated member states to develop policies to counter the harmful use of alcohol from as far back as 2008.

In its latest report, the WHO described alcohol as “a toxic and psychoactive substance with dependence producing properties. In many of today’s societies, alcoholic beverages are a routine part of the social landscape for many in the population”. The WHO also says there is real concern about alcohol consumption as it “contributes to three million deaths each year globally as well as to the disabilities and poor health of millions of people,” noting that harmful use of alcohol is responsible for 5.1 per cent of the global burden of disease.

The WHO cites alcohol as the leading risk factor for premature death and disability among persons aged 15 to 49 years, accounting for 10 per cent of all deaths in that age group.

The possibility of new regulations on alcohol has breweries and spirit companies weighing the implications.

At a seminar last December involving alcohol producers, representatives of companies such as Jamaica’s sole brewer, Red Stripe Jamaica, and dominant spirits company J. Wray & Nephew Limited called for consultations and input from the sector on alcohol policy formulation.

But Tufton says the health ministry is targeting alcohol abuse, not consumption, while noting that the substance was a main contributor to lifestyle diseases, requiring measures to curtail its health effects.

“The intention is to support measures to reduce alcohol abuse, not to stop alcohol consumption. This is important to understand. Alcohol abuse is a main contributor of lifestyle diseases and death. It’s important to discourage that,” Tufton said.

He did not say when the issue would come up for Cabinet consideration but the Financial Gleaner understands all the preparatory work has already been done.