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Opinion: Nigeria’s ban on alcohol sold in small sachets will help tackle underage drinking

Posted 26 February, 2024

Sachet alcoholic drinks on display. Kofo Belo-Osagie

On February 5, 2024, Nigeria’s National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (opens in a new window)announced a ban on alcoholic beverages sold in sachets or bottles less than 200ml. The agency asserts that the ban will, among other benefits, protect underage children from easy access to alcohol. However, the Federal House of Representatives, Nigeria’s lower chamber of the national assembly, has asked that the ban be (opens in a new window)suspended pending investigation. Medical sociologist Emeka Dumbili, who has (opens in a new window)researched issues around young people’s use of alcohol and other psychoactive substances, explains why he believes the ban is needed and how it can work.

How bad is youth alcohol consumption in Nigeria?

Alcohol consumption is growing among young Nigerians. Although alcohol consumption is not new to Nigerian society, historically only adults consumed it because drinking (opens in a new window)signified that one was an elder. Unwritten rules constrained youths from drinking palm wine, which was the only available alcoholic beverage then. It was believed they were too immature to handle the intoxicating effects of alcohol. Nowadays, a rising number of Nigerian adolescents and young adults consume alcohol. Some even see drinking as (opens in a new window)fashionable and those who abstain as old fashioned.

Studies have shown that young Nigerians are consuming more alcohol. For example, studies published in (opens in a new window)2015, (opens in a new window)2021 and (opens in a new window)2023 found a 30%, 34% and 55.8% drinking prevalence among youths in Nigeria.

These statistics suggest that there will be more alcohol-related problems such as (opens in a new window)brain underdevelopment or damage, alcohol-induced (opens in a new window)sicknesses, truancy, violence, injuries and death among young people than there used to be.

Existing studies not only show that youths are drinking, but reveal heavy drinking and drunkenness. These findings also echo a (opens in a new window)World Health Organization report from 2018 which showed that the 22.5% prevalence of heavy episodic drinking among Nigerians aged 15 to 19 years was among the highest on the African continent.

How do liquor sachets contribute to the problem?

Research has shown that several factors are responsible for youth alcohol consumption in Nigeria. Chief among them is (opens in a new window)unregulated alcohol marketing. Alcohol corporations in Nigeria increasingly use aggressive marketing strategies, (opens in a new window)advertising and sales promotions such as buy-two-get-one-free that make different brands of such alcohol readily (opens in a new window)available, accessible and affordable.

Alcoholic beverages packaged in less than 200ml plastic bottles and sachets are affordable and widely available in retail shops, supermarkets, roadside kiosks and eateries in Nigeria.

They are also sold close to (opens in a new window)primary and secondary schools, where children spend time away from their parents. This is against international standard practices.

Sachet alcoholic beverages are also easy to carry and can be concealed from adults because of their small size. Young people can easily buy and drink them.

Another reason why sachet drinks are a problem is that they are spirit-based beverages with (opens in a new window)high potency. They can contain between (opens in a new window)40% and 60% alcohol, which is potentially (opens in a new window)more harmful.

There’s another reason too, related to another growing problem in Nigeria. Many youths now use different types of herbal sachet and plastic bottle alcoholic beverages as (opens in a new window)aphrodisiacs and (opens in a new window)sex enhancers. A (opens in a new window)2020 study found that 33.6% of adolescents used sachet alcohol before their last sexual intercourse.

How effective are bans of liquor products?

Well-coordinated enforcement of the ban can check the availability of sachet alcoholic beverages. This should reduce accessibility, consumption and related harms among young people.

(opens in a new window)Uganda has a ban, which has reduced the availability and consumption of sachet alcohol in that country. (opens in a new window)Research in western countries has also shown that banning alcohol advertising reduces consumption.

For the ban to be effective, Nigeria should learn from (opens in a new window)Malawi’s experience. There, the ban on sachet alcohol failed to produce the desired results due to the lack of coordinated and effective enforcement.

Do state institutions in Nigeria have capacity to enforce the ban?

It requires coordinated effort. As a regulatory body, the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control may not implement the ban without the support of federal law enforcement agencies like the police.

What else can be done to deal with youth drinking?

Dealing with the problem of alcohol consumption among youths goes beyond placing a ban on sachet alcoholic beverages. Many young people in western countries are shunning alcohol consumption due to the rising awareness of the problems associated with drinking and also because of (opens in a new window)reduced peer pressure. The decline in youth drinking in the west may also be due to effective policy implementation on alcohol marketing and the increased (opens in a new window)minimum drinking age, especially in countries such as the US.

Nigerian agencies should learn from the reasons why youths in the west are avoiding alcohol. This will help when designing and sharing information to educate Nigerian youths and the public on the dangers of using sachet alcoholic products.

The awareness campaign should highlight the short- and long-term positive effects of the ban. This is important so that alcohol producers and marketers will not form alliances that will frustrate the purpose.

To disseminate information widely, social media platforms where young people are increasingly active should be prioritised without neglecting the traditional media. Health NGOs and other charities should also help spread information on the ban’s benefits, including the idea that “health is wealth”.

Nigeria should increase the minimum purchasing age from 18 to 21 years and enforce such regulations to deter early alcohol initiation and consumption.

To prevent the failure of the sachet alcohol ban, the federal government should ensure it’s enforced without corruption.

By: (opens in a new window)Emeka Dumbili, Assistant Professor and Ad Astra Fellow, (opens in a new window)University College Dublin

This article is republished from (opens in a new window)The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the (opens in a new window)original article.

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