India is the 3rd largest liquor market in the world. The alcohol industry is one of the fastest growing industries on the back of demographics and economy. With a growth of 7-12% in the decade between 2001 to 2011, the alcohol industry in India has indeed been flourishing.
Major factors behind the Growth
- The growth of the alcohol industry has been partly due to the fact that the youth of India has joined the brigade of the consumers.
- Alcohol companies have also managed to brand beverages like Vodka as a woman’s drink which has seen a boom in its sales in the past decade.
- The elastic nature of the industry has also been a reason behind the growth of this industry. If prices are higher, demand does not fall, instead the consumer moves towards the cheaper brands. As a result, market giants are constantly locking horns by trying to make the price of their product the most competitive in the market.
- The youth in India has no dearth of choice as far as the availability of alcohol at cheap rates is concerned.
Ill Effects of Alcohol
Spirits, wine and beer falling under the category of alcohol are intoxicating drinks. While spirits are made of fermented grains and sugar, wine is made of fermented fruits. A drink within limits on a social level is considered fine. However, the youth need to know the following facts:
- Without limits and on usage over a long period of time even within limits, alcohol can cause brain damage.
- Alcohol used over extended period of time can result in mouth or throat cancer, liver cirrhosis and heart problems among other health hazards.
- Weight gain and dehydrated skin are also some of the side effects of alcohol.
- Apart from the health hazards, there are also the dangers of doing something out of character while being intoxicated. Like getting physically intimate with someone without protection which may have varied negative outcomes like pregnancy or a sexually transmitted disease.
- Alcohol can also cause personality disorders.
- Last but not the least, alcohol has the tendency of instilling a false sense of being indomitable resulting in risk-taking behaviours like engaging in violence, or going in for speed thrills which may result in fatal accidents.
Youth and Alcohol in India
The Constitution of India encourages prohibition and the Directive Principles of the State Policy (Article 47 of the Constitution) says “The State shall endeavour to bring about prohibition of the consumption except for medicinal purpose of intoxicating drinks and of drugs which are injurious to health”. While alcohol is prohibited in some states, the legal drinking ages in India varies from 18 years to 25 years. But a recent study by NIMHANS has revealed that the average age of alcohol consumption in India has fallen by nearly nine years to 19 with a prediction to fall to 15 in the near future. The reasons for this increase in the number of youth drinking alcohol are many:
- In recent years, disapproval of alcohol drinking has decreased which in turn has driven up consumption especially among the youth.
- Social drinking has become the norm of the day for the youth.
- Due to weak implementation of laws, prohibition is not 100% successful. The alcohol market just shifts underground and the youth are able to buy what they want from the black market.
- The age limit is only on paper and no one follows the law and neither does the law care.
- Status or locations are no barriers. Easy availability has resulted in the rich, middle-class and the poor youth, as well as the youth in the urban sector and the rural sector drinking alike.
- There is no awareness among the youth as to the dangers of alcohol.
- Alcohol still remains in the closet in India and thus educating the youth about drinking becomes difficult.
The Game Plan of Alcohol Companies to Lure the Youth in India
In India, it is against the law for alcohol brands to advertise on radio, in newspapers or on television. With this prohibition, the alcohol companies figured out a loophole that they could put to use. One can see advertisements by alcohol brands on televisions and newspapers with products like CDs, though the entire visual representation and message delivered is that of youth drinking and having fun. Things changed in favour of these companies with the coming of social media. With no laws restricting advertisements on this platform, alcohol companies are taking advantage of the situation and targeting the youth through this media.
Dr Zakirhusain A Shaikh of the department of community medicine at Jamia Hamdard says: “Though the use of media like television, radio, newspapers, etc., for the promotion of alcohol is not permitted, the law is silent on the social media. This is used as an opportunity by alcohol companies to legally market their brand on social media sites, in an innovative manner.”
According to Mr Shaikh, an analysis of the Indian alcohol policy as well as the policies of the different platforms of social media has revealed many loopholes. The following came to light in the analysis:
- There is no central policy regarding alcohol
- The law of advertisement does not cover the modern media including social media and mobile apps.
- The policies of the social media regarding advertisement of alcohol brands are very vague.
It is indeed unfortunate, but the alcohol companies are now targeting youth in the age bracket of 15 to 45 years and with the deep penetration of the social media in this day of information and technology, they have been successful in doing so. A study shows that 26 brands of alcohol have active pages on the most popular social media platform, Facebook, with as many as 14 to 17.7 million followers. Twitter and Youtube, the other prominent social platforms follow at close heels.
Apart from the menace of no prohibition of advertising alcohol brands on the social media, platforms like Facebook have a minimum age of 13 years before one can join. Thus youth as young as 13 are getting exposed to the advertisements of alcohol resulting in the age of drinking decreasing even further.
Immediate corrective action has to be taken to save the youth of India from alcoholism in the following ways:
- Prohibition needs to be enforced strictly with a special emphasis on eradicating black marketeers.
- The minimum age of drinking should be followed, and law enforcement agencies should participate diligently in enforcing the rule.
- The social media should be included in the law of prohibition of advertisement of alcoholic beverages at the earliest date.
- Students need to be educated regarding the ill effects of alcohol at the schools as well as at home by parents.
The youth is the future of our nation. It is time to safeguard their interests by keeping them fit and healthy.