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Insiders question Vietnam’s proposed measures to reduce alcohol impact

Wednesday, June 14, 2017, 21:26 GMT+7

Vietnam wants to levy a number of bans on the sale, marketing and consumption of beer and liquor, but few of them seem viable, industry insiders have claimed.

The Ministry of Health is drafting a law on alleviating the impact of alcohol, which includes proposals such as restricting advertising by brewers and banning them from granting scholarships.

However, experts and industry insiders have said that these bans won’t work and are urging the health ministry to think of more practical and effective measures.

According to the bill, beer and alcoholic drinks makers should not be allowed to launch promotional campaigns aimed directly at consumers.

The health ministry also wants to ban all advertising and marketing activities for any beer or liquor products with an alcohol content of more than 15 percent. Advertisements for products below this alcohol content should be banned on public transportation and outdoor billboards.

The draft law also proposes a prohibition on beer and liquor manufacturers from sponsoring events and programs in the fields of education, culture, arts, education, healthcare and sports, and even suggests banning beer and alcohol from weddings and festivals.

Besides all those bans, the health ministry also wants to have all alcohol makers contribute to a fund meant to “increase community health”.

Infeasible and ineffective

The proposed measures to lessen the effects of alcohol in the bill have been met with immediate objections from the alcohol industry.

Nguyen Van Viet, chairman of the Vietnam Beverage Association, said it is unreasonable to impose a uniform ban on beer and alcoholic beverages.

“Learning from other countries, banning beer and alcohol advertising does nothing to reduce consumption,” Viet said.

Liquor ads are banned in many countries, but publicity activities for beer products are allowed under strict management, including time, place and content.

“So the proposal to ban all kinds of advertisements for both beer and liquor is totally inappropriate,” he said.

An official from the Finance and Budget Committee under the lawmaking National Assembly, also said the proposed bans go against the law on advertising.

“The draft law focuses too much on banning this and prohibiting that, but mentions little about possible policies to increase the awareness of drinkers,” he said on condition of anonymity.

Matt Wilson, corporate affairs director at Heineken Vietnam, said banning beer ads may even increase the consumption of beer.

Once brewers no longer have to waste money on ads, they will be able to slash prices, boosting consumption even further, Wilson warned.

The suggestion to prevent beer and liquor makers from doing charity has also been criticized.

“This proposition is too extreme and will impact the corporate social responsibility of beer makers,” one leader of a major Vietnamese beer maker said.

“Should a ban be enforced, a number of existing sponsorship and charitable works, such as providing scholarships for needy students and building homes for underprivileged people will be stopped, affecting the beneficiaries.”

Ngo Quy Linh, head of law and public relations with wine wholesaler Pernod Ricard Vietnam, said the proposal to mandate beer and liquor makers to contribute to a ‘public health fund’ must be reviewed.

Linh noted that beer and liquor makers are already forced to pay a 60 percent special consumption tax, with that rate scheduled to increase to 65 percent in 2018.

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