Nearly half of surveyed students in Vietnam said they had their first taste of alcoholic drinks before the age of 14, Health Minister Nguyen Thi Kim Tien said on Friday as she presented a draft law on prevention of alcohol-related harm to the lawmaking National Assembly.
Over 80 percent of males 15 years or older in Vietnam said they had consumed alcohol in the month prior to being surveyed, Minister Tien said, citing a 2015 report.
The ratio was nearly 12 percent in females from 15 years old, she said.
These figures represented a notable increase from 2010 statistics, which stood at 70 percent in males and six percent in females, Tien added.
Underage drinking remains rampant among both genders, as nearly 80 percent of male adolescents and youths admitted to having consumed alcohol once in their life.
The ratio was 36.5 percent in female adolescents and youths.
In Vietnam, the legal age to buy alcohol is 18.
According to a 2013 students’ health survey conducted by the health ministry, nearly 44 percent of grades 8-12 students who were polled said they had had their first taste of alcohol before the age of 14.
Over 22 percent of surveyed students said they had got drunk at least once.
|Nguyen Thi Kim Tien, Vietnamese Minister of Health, speaks at a session of the lawmaking National Assembly on November 9, 2018. Photo: National Assembly|
In Vietnam, alcohol is ranked fifth among the top 15 health risks, Minister Tien said, adding that 8.3 percent of all deaths in the country in 2012 were related to alcohol consumption, according to incomplete statistics.
Around VND65 trillion (US$2.77 billion) each year, or 1.3 percent of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP), is expended on economic costs of alcohol consumption, including treatment of related diseases and consequences of traffic accidents caused by intoxicated drivers, the health minister pointed out.
In 2017, the Vietnamese population spent nearly $4 billion on beer alone, while the money spent on all alcoholic drinks could be much higher, she said.
In comparison, the revenue of Vietnam’s rice exports stood at a little more than $2.4 billion that same year, said Nguyen Huy Quang, director of the legal affairs department under Vietnam’s health ministry, at a separate conference on alcohol-related harm in Hanoi on Thursday.
“Proposed measures to reduce alcohol consumption in the draft law such as limiting access and increasing tax and retail prices of alcoholic drinks have been met with objection from enterprises,” Quang said.
Some lawmakers have even proposed changing the name of the draft law from “prevention of alcohol-related harm” to “prevention of alcohol abuse-related harm,” he added.
Such a proposal would weaken the effectiveness of the legislation, since studies have proved that there is ‘safety limit’ to alcohol consumption, Quang said.
According to a World Health Organization (WHO) representative, Vietnam’s per capita alcohol consumption is 8.3 liters yearly and rising, counting only those 15 years or older.
This figure is the same as Thailand but much higher than other Southeast Asian nations such as the Philippines (6.6 liters a year) or Singapore (two liters a year).