Spirited argument on liquor consumption between Vietnam’s health ministry, businesses

By Nam Phuong   May 30, 2018 | 12:56 am PT
Spirited argument on liquor consumption between Vietnam’s health ministry, businesses
A man drinks Sabeco's 333 beer at a restaurant in Hanoi, Vietnam. Business representatives are arguing that Vietnam's beer consumption does not need restrictions. Photo by Reuters/Kham
Liquor industry believes stricter controls over alcohol sale and consumption are not called for.

The Health Ministry and businesses in the liquor industry are at loggerheads over efforts to regulate and reduce alcohol consumption in the country, with the latter seeing no need to further tighten current regulations.

Speaking at a seminar held on May 25 last week in Hanoi, Nguyen Van Viet, chairman of Vietnam Beer, Alcohol, and Beverage Association (VBA), said that Vietnam’s alcohol production and consumption rate was “at a moderate level.” The industry has not seen any growth for the past three years, he said.

With a per capita annual consumption of 6.6 liters, Vietnam is ranked 94 among 194 countries by the World Health Organization (WHO).

Tran Thi Trang, Deputy Head of the Health Ministry’s legal department, countered Viet’s claim, saying the average figure of 6.6 liters included non-drinkers above 15. She noted that alcohol consumption among females and males was at 11 percent and 77 percent respectively, compared the corresponding world figures of 29 percent and 48 percent.

“If we factor out other elements, males above 15 years old would consume an average 27.4 alcohol liters per year. This is an alarming number and would rank Vietnam second among Southeast Asian countries, 10th among Asian countries, and 29th in the world,” she said.

Business representatives at the seminar also protested a proposed law that would create a fund to improve population’s health. They said they were already spending a lot of money on "drink responsibly" campaigns.

But the ministry disagreed, saying the campaigns do not have clear messages and do not indicate the right time to stop drinking.

The committee that drafted the regulations also felt that the consumption rate of alcohol and tobacco was disproportionately high when compared with current household incomes and living standards.

It was also not accurate to say there was no growth in the industry, when big brands were posting big gains, even after tax, the seminar heard. For instance, Sabeco reported net profit of VND4.562 trillion ($200.5 million) and and Habeco VND658 billion ($29 million) in 2017, higher than their earnings in the previous year.

Frans Eusman, Asia-Pacific president for Heineken, recently told CNBC that the brand was heavily focused on Vietnam since it was the second biggest market after Mexico, and a major profit earner.

The drafting committee is currently reviewing and proposing provisions that aim to reduce the harm caused by alcohol consumption. Recent measures proposed by the Health Ministry include a ban on alcohol advertisement and a ban on the sale of alcohol after a certain time period. The proposal is part of a draft law on preventing adverse affects of alcoholic drinks, which will be reviewed by lawmakers this October.

Euromonitor International, a market research firm, has reported that Vietnam consumed four billion alcohol liters in 2017. It projects that this figure could rise to more than 4.6 billion liters in 2020 and roughly five billion liters in 2022.

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