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Govt Policies Abetting Alcohol Misuse Among Youth- Brewers

A study by scientists led by Dr Leon Matagi from the School of Psychology and Dr Luis Kamulegeya, a researcher at the Infectious Diseases Institute at Makerere University shows that 86 per cent of students at universities drink alcohol, ‘recklessly’.

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Alcohol industry leaders have blamed the recent surge in alcohol abuse partly on the increasing availability of cheaper and more potent products, which younger persons are accessing easily.

A study by scientists led by Dr Leon Matagi from the School of Psychology and Dr Luis Kamulegeya, a researcher at the Infectious Diseases Institute at Makerere University shows that 86 per cent of students at universities drink alcohol, ‘recklessly’.

This, according to them, has far-reaching implications on them and the communities in which they leave. Dr Matagi says that another research last year showed that at least a 15 per cent of primary school children were also drinking alcohol, while the situation gets worse through secondary school.

He says that at the earlier stages, children mostly consume informal products because they can hardly afford products from the formal beer industry. However, at the University, the fact that they have got a little more money and freedom, the abuse of alcohol gets even worse, according to Dr Matagi.

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Nile Breweries Ltd acknowledges that illicit or informal sector products contribute more to the problem than the formal producers. In Uganda and many other countries, alcohol has been part of culture, with some practices demanding the presence of beer or another alcoholic drink, which in most cases, becomes the starting point for drinking among children.

However, the researchers concluded that there is need for all, from the parents, brewers and schools to jointly approach the situation to introduce what may be ‘responsible drinking’.

Nile Breweries Managing Director David Daniel Valencia says that on average, the small illicit sachets of 200 millilitres is as strong as 1,500 millilitres of the brewed beer. He calls on the authorities to put more emphasis on these products, which he says hardly even pay any taxes.

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NBL has now launched a campaign at Makerere, Mbarara, Kyambogo, Soroti and Kampala Universities, to involve students in a way of a competition to suggest ways to responsible drinking.  It is estimated that these products account for more almost 40 percent of the market, despite having almost no contribution in form of taxes to government.

The MD calls for stricter regulation of the market to ensure protection of vulnerable groups from the effects of alcohol. He however, said that instead, regulation has tended to adversely affect the formal industry more, while promoting the availability of illicit products to younger and lower income earners. 

Valencia gives the example of the Digital Tax Stamp which was aimed at curbing the presence of substandard and smuggled products on the market.

However, the fact that the targeted companies are made to pay for the Digital Tax Stamp, has made their products more expensive, to the advantage of the informal, illicit products which are not subjected to the DTS rules. Valencia says, much as it is important, the application of the DTS must be revised.

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The Commissioner for Youth and Children Affairs at the Ministry of Gender Mondo Kyateeka says that while it is difficult to change cultures overnight, there must be a system to enable community leaders, parents and schools support ‘responsible drinking’.

Kyateeka says drinking among children is one of the causes of the rising gender-based and domestic-based violence in the country. He suggests that lack of inactivity among the children during the Covid 19 period had made matter worse, adding that recreation activities would help reduce on alcohol consumption as an option.

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However, formal alcohol companies have been blamed for irresponsible marketing of their products which does not protect young people. The brewers say they have complied with all the advertising and marketing regulations, including giving warnings on packages about what the dangers could be is abused, as well as indicating that alcohol is not meant for persons under age.

Peter Muhereza, the Warden University Hall at Makerere University says sometimes many events sponsored by companies, do more harm to the students that good, as they induce them to drink more.   

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