Our drinking problem

Not funny

We have a drinking problem.

We reportedly consume 7.5 liters of alcohol per person per year. Much of that is served in the more than 3,000 licensed bars that we have. That works out to one bar for every 250 people. And that does not take into consideration the large-scale production, sale and consumption of home brewed alcohol throughout our country.

That’s why alcohol abuse is a leading cause of non-communicable diseases. That’s why alcohol-related diseases make up a whopping 27% of all hospital inpatients. That’s why they account for a staggering 58% of all inpatient mortality. That’s why alcohol was the top killer in 2010.

We have a drinking problem. And the government realizes it. So in order to discourage the habit, they recently increased taxes on alcohol.

Total taxes on beer produced domestically or imported from India have doubled from 50% to 100%

And total taxes on beer imported from other countries have increased from 150% to 200%

The increases in beer prices will, no doubt, discourage us from drinking beer. But that, ironically, may encourage us to drink more locally produced hard liquor.

Why? Because taxes on the more popular locally produced liquors have not gone up proportionately. In fact, taxes on Special Courier, Black Mountain Whisky and Changta Whisky have not increased at all – not even by 1%. And taxes on Rock Bee Brandy and Sonfy Liquor have only marginally increased by 10% and 15% respectively.

So expect our people to drink less beer, a beverage that generally has less than 6% of alcohol by volume. And expect our people to drink more whisky, brandy and Sonfy all of which typically contain about 40% of alcohol.

We have a drinking problem. And it’s about to get worse.


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  1. “In fact, taxes on Special Courier, Black Mountain Whisky and Changta Whisky have not increased at all – not even by 1%. And taxes on Rock Bee Brandy and Sonfy Liquor have only marginally increased by 10% and 15% respectively.”

    Why is this? I thought the tax increase after last Assembly’s decision (or June 20 the day of tabling the tax revision in the Assembly) applied across all the alcohol products. How did AWP products escape the tax revision? Sounds something fishy….may be a good question for you, OL, on the DPT government in the next Assembly!

    • Dear YPenjor: I was so dejected at the government’s tax proposal on alcohol that I didn’t even feel like objecting. But the Hon’ble Speaker asked me to do so, even though I hadn’t asked for the floor. I explained that the tax proposal did not inspire confidence in the government’s attempt to reduce alcoholism. I explained that if the objective of the taxes was to fight alcohol abuse, the finance ministry had not even consulted the health ministry. And, I cautioned the House that, given the proposed tax structure, our people will end up consuming more hard liquor, leading to even more alcohol-related diseases. Tshering

  2. The tax increase was just to make poor suffer. Did you see that they classed liquors into three categories, one for the richest, one for the middle income group and the for the poor group. For the richest preferred liquor the tax was even less than fruit juice, and where as the poorest liquors, the tax was more than 200% after including duties.

    While discussing the bill in the parliament, the justification was that the rich people liquor cost more in terms of amount even when the percentage was less, but what they fail to mention is rich people earn more be it salary increase or income. For example when they increased every ones salary by 20% , drivers are getting a meager 1,000 increase where as secretaries were getting more than 7,000 increase. I don’t know why they didn’t increase salary like the liquor, more % for lower income group and less % for higher income group. Our higher income bracket wants it both ways.

    Coming to taxes I have a question and a request for OL. I am a avid gym goer and I take protein supplements. The cost of the health supplements were very expensive, so I asked the gym owner the reason. He said the reason is because government charges them 60% tax. If it wasn’t for the taxes he could reduce the price by as much as 1,000 ngultrum per tub of protein shake. So I don’t understand why the tax is so high for healthy food items. I think the tax should be lowered or brought to zero for health supplements.

  3. Lampenda Chuup says

    A child wants to fill milk in a vessel with holes. You teach him that you either increase input, or decrease outflow, or both. How does what Bhutan spends treating alcohol-related illnesses compare with income from production and trade of alcohol? We may be spending a lot more if you also include curbing alcohol related crimes and social problems. ‘Drinking is in our tradition’ no longer holds water anymore. Look at the patients in our hospitals.

    Same goes for hydropower generation. How much do we spend on import of fossil fuels, dealing with pollution vs. revenue generated from power export? Should we look for alternatives, or even promote more use of electricity over fossil fuels. We keep on generating hydroelectricity, but that is offset by the increase in fossil fuel import and use. What is the point really? Only India gains every time.

    A wise father would analyse these first, and then make a decision on whether to increase input, decrease loss, or use a combination of both. So should our government.

  4. This is very important issue that creates social menace and digs deep hole in the public exchequer…But, unfortunately, there is no specific solution…..This problem can be solved neither through taxation nor by enacting stringent laws…not even through relentless awareness campaign…The only solution is through SELF CONTROL! One should control the quantity of intake……If you tax more, people will go for locally brewed alcohol which is stronger and perhaps more harmful…Coming to awareness, many knows the harmful effect of alcohol yet people drink it…so, the only possible solution is through self realization and self control!!!

  5. I don’t think that the raising of tax on imported beer is not much help to Bhutanese consumers but only reduces Govt.tax revenue because in my opinion more than 80% of imported beer back to India illegally due to huge Tax references before raising of tax.so far our govt.never consulting with the stack holders or public before taking such step (so this is only from my individual view)

  6. Thanks OL, I really appreciate it and I am sure other people will appreciate it too.

  7. What will be the outcome???

    Poor will certainly not stop drinking. They certainly will switchover to cheaper and unhealthy country made substitutes.

    The medium income group will blame the government for the tax increase and keep drinking. Of course now the Bar will be stocking less of Beer and more of other hard drinks.

    High income/Unknown source of income/People of high repute who are served free. Ah….ha. Are they ever affected by any of the government decisions???

    Just for thought.

  8. Wow – what a disparity on the taxes. Its crazy to hear that the health vitamin supplements attract a tax of 60%. Double crazy- a lady was bringing in some cycle helmets for a bunch of friends on order from Bangkok. Guess what- she was charged a tax of 40% at Paro customs. The lady argued that it is for safety and also that it is for Biking which is for clean and green and healthy habit. Besides NA declared the cycle and its parts to be tax free. What is going on. The right does not know what the left is doing and vice versa. Hon’OL- we need help to sort this out. Someone out to straighten such communication gaps and silly errors. The government says one thing but the implementers do another thing. Crazy !!!

    • Dear STAR: You are absolutely right. Taxing helmets does not make sense, especially since bicycles are tax free. What is the message? That the government encourages cycling….but, cycling without helmets! If you cycle, wear a helmet – it’s as simple (and important) as that. The government should have regulations in place to ensure that cyclists wear helmets. Instead, with the current taxes, it looks like the government is discouraging the use of safety helmets. Silly … and dangerous. Tshering

  9. Guys, best way is to stop drinking. I used to be a heavy drinker. It took sometime to get the courage. Now it is over 5 months and I managed it. I am so happy myself!

  10. Dear OL,

    Though off topic, kindly look into the following too:

    1.When visiting the hospital, some patients are prescribed a drug called lasix and since they are not dispersed free of charge, the patients are asked to buy it from a pharmacy, however, when they do go to buy it, the pharmacies inform the patient that they are not permitted to sell that particular drug.

    Now, who is responsible for such a thing.

  11. When it comes to the drinking problem in our land. It is our responsibility to worry. Even then some of us say that it is our tradition. I do respect it but when we come to the present trend. I think serious thoughts have to be given.As mentioned by Honorable OL,more of death in the hospitals in 2010 is caused by alcohol. Then, Bhutanese should wake up. But, this is my perspectives.We have increase the tax for liquor both produced from within and outside but will the increase in tax really bring down the consumption rate? This is my question. It is not my intend to hurt someone but is a general question la.We must see that how much govt is spending for the public health. For those patients who cannot be treated in the country are referred outside. Alcohol don’t kill instantly. It cause disease and then get killed. For that the expenditures spend is huge, be it on the govt side or the individuals.If our people are suffering from the alcohol related diseases. Then, will there be development in the country. I don’t think so. To avoid complication we have to find solution ourselves. Working together is only my solution. When many heads come together. We can find good solution may na la. Let us not blame here and there but work together.
    If it is really that alcohol cause havoc in the society. I think we should do something. Yes, i do see to some extend the problems. The only way is to bring down the consumption is educating our people. In late 90s when i was a student in the primary, i saw middle secondary students and teachers going for campaign on TOBACCO education.Banners were found on the high ways and in the towns saying TOBACCO IS ”INJURIOUS TO HEALTH”. Similar to it if we can do at present. It would be nice. when we compare ten years back and present there is vast difference. Moreover, at present, more of our citizens are literate. So they might understand it.All that i mentioned here is my opinion la.
    Thank you la

  12. Hello Bhutan says

    I’m surprised to hear about this. After reading that Bhutan was one of the happiest places in the world with a GNH Gross National Happiness, I was even contemplating the possibility of some day moving there. I had envisioned that the people sought relaxation and happiness from within through meditation, and entertainment through cultural activites. I never would imagine that a drinking problem existed there.

    Why do you think that is?

  13. Hi. This is Anil from India. Recently toured Bhutan on vacation. Noticed beer and hard liquor was available at all grocers and general shops. Hence thought of looking up on alcoholism in Bhutan. Sad to see the confirmation that the problem exists and is taking a toll on health and medical infrastructure. Hard drinks are justified by some in the name of extremely cold climate. But there are healthier alternatives to deal with cold.

    Government needs to conduct campaigns to educate people about the ill effects of alcoholism. Heavy drinking and GDH cannot co-exist.

    We thoroughly enjoyed the natural beauty. Best of luck for fighting the menace of excess alcohol consumption,

  14. Further to my comments a little while ago, I thought of informing about Alcoholics Anonymous of India, who do commendable work to wean people away from drinking. You may consider contacting Mr. S. K. Bhalla, their former president on sktrafo@yahoo.com or +919821508642. He can advise and help.


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