Consumers Association of Penang

Giving voice to the little people...since 1970

What is an alcohol company doing in our schools?

CAP is disturbed to learn that the Guinness Anchor Bhd (GAB) Foundation is providing 6 schools in Ijok and Kuala Selangor with new reading corners under its Supporting Malaysian Indian Learning Education and Sports (SMILES) programme.

This is said to be the second project the GAB Foundation is undertaking with 5 of these 6 schools, whereby in 2008, GAB had already contributed school-going supplies to 600 pupils from these schools.

We are very concerned to note that even the Deputy Foreign Minister, YB A. Kohilan Pillai, took part in the unveiling ceremony at SJK (T) Ladang Coalfields, making us believe that the Government is fully in support.

There is already worldwide concern over the harm caused by alcohol. More than 2 million people around the world die each year from alcohol-related causes. The harmful use of alcohol is a leading risk factor for premature death and disability globally. Just like tobacco, alcohol use not only affects drinkers but also can have adverse effects on those around.

The World Health Organization (WHO) is already planning for a Global Strategy to combat the Harmful Use of Alcohol. CAP is calling for a Framework Convention on Alcohol Control — similar to the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) which is aimed at reducing the harm caused by tobacco.

Here in Malaysia, our Road Safety Council once estimated that 30% of road accidents nationwide are caused by drinking and driving. According to the Women’s Aid Organisation, one of our local non-governmental organisations, ethnic Chinese and Indian respondents listed “influence of alcohol” as the leading reason for wife battery, while across all ethnic groups “influence of alcohol” ranked second.

The consumption of alcohol has been linked with adverse outcomes which can devastate the whole family, including child abuse, killings, and broken homes, where either the spouse or the children leave home, and divorces.

The drinkers themselves face unemployment and chronic illness, which again affects the family. A large percentage of the family income can be squandered on alcohol, leaving the family in a dismal financial state.

Drinking can also cost a nation dearly in terms of monetary losses for medical treatment, absenteeism from work, accidents, diminished job skills, the salaries required for additional police personnel and social workers, costs to cover court cases, damage to public property and vehicles, as well as insurance payments.

In Europe, it is reported that the perpetrators of half of all violent crime had been drinking. This was based on a survey in 2006 by Peter Anderson, a consultant for the European Commission and the WHO. Also, the survey found that 40% of domestic violence cases and 40% of murders were committed by people who had been drinking. Not including drunk drivers themselves, it is reported that there are 10,000 alcohol-related deaths per year in Europe. Alcohol was found to be responsible for 16% of child abuse and neglect cases, and 5 -9 million European children live in families adversely affected by alcohol (New Scientist, April 2008).

Corresponding statistics are very likely to exist in our country, although the Ministry of Health is still collecting data.

If at all the alcohol industry is concerned for the welfare of the Indian community, it should instead turn its efforts wholeheartedly towards educating the public on the harm caused by alcohol plus immediately stopping the advertising, promotion and sales of its alcoholic products throughout the country.

CAP calls on the Government to urgently initiate measures to strictly prohibit alcohol companies from sponsoring any projects or programmes in schools, or being involved in schools in any other way; and to bring the SMILES programme to an immediate halt.