by Bui Quynh Hoa
Summer showers or even super typhoon Rammasun, which swept through northern Viet Nam last month, could not cool the heated debate over a draft law proposed by the Ministry of Health (MoH).
The ministry said in the bill, aimed at preventing the harmful effects of alcohol abuse, that no store, bar, restaurant or eatery would be allowed to sell beer and alcohol between 10pm and 6am. The proposed ban has raised a strong debate and multi-directional feedback immediately after it was made public. People talk about it everywhere, from homes to streets, and government bodies to local markets. Some agree with the bill, some don't, but all make the same point: they all care about it.
Many people think that the proposed ban would not be feasible.
"I wonder how law enforcement officers can frequently check all alcohol-selling facilities to determine whether they are breaching the law or not, and how they would know if an individual has crossed the limits on alcohol consumption," lawyer Dinh Van Que said.
"The ban is necessary but how to implement it effectively is a big question. We cannot apply just rigid administrative measures. In my opinion, we should plan synchronised actions in which publicity about the harmful effects of alcohol is a must," Que added.
Chairman of the Viet Nam Beer, Alcohol and Beverage Association Nguyen Van Viet said that the people should think about the ban carefully and seriously.
"I think the ban would not be feasible. The writers of laws should not think of only the health effects; other social issues such as the local economy, culture and the population's habits are important things to be considered. This proposal will financially affect not only our association's turnover, but also a number of bars and restaurants nationwide," Viet added.
Marketing Director of Saigontourist Company Doan Thi Thanh Tra insists that the bill will never become law.
"Many foreign visitors come to Viet Nam on holiday to relax, and that includes having beer and alcohol," said Tra. "If the bill is passed, who would want to be in our country where they cannot have wine with a late dinner? We cannot add a notice on the menu saying that we do not serve beer and alcohol after 10pm."
A number of foreign tourists in Viet Nam have lamented the unusual lack of nightlife here.
"Viet Nam is a tropical country. This means that it is very hot in summer," said Robert Maxx from England. "So where will I go for a beer and what will I drink if you ban beer?"
Michael Tran, who is from Canada, agreed: "I finish my work late in the night at about 11pm. I like to have a beer after a hard day's work. The proposal, if it becomes law, will be a step backwards for Viet Nam's developing tourism industry."
Drinking alcohol is a socially acceptable behavior in the country as well as many parts of the world. Medical experts say light and moderate drinking may even be good for health, especially for the heart.
"Several studies have shown that moderate drinking may lower the risk of coronary heart and cardiovascular diseases, ischemic stroke and diabetes," said Dr Bui Ngoc Minh from the Construction Hospital.
"Moderate drinking is also linked to a reduced risk of death from heart attack and a decreased risk of Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia. Having a small amount of red wine may also help lower the risk of breast cancer in women," Minh added.
But alcohol can be addictive and can poison the mind, affect health and family life, and could provoke wrongdoing.
According to Dr Minh, those who drink too much often face a high risk of developing health problems. The level of damage depends on the amount of alcohol consumed. The organs that are used for the absorption and digestion of alcohol, such as stomach, liver and pancreas, are vulnerable. The brain also suffers from continuous abuse of alcohol.
A new report from the World Health Organisation (WHO) says that in 2012, alcohol was responsible for about 3.3 million deaths, or 5.9 per cent of all deaths globally. The WHO has counted more than 200 health conditions related to alcohol consumption, which also make people more susceptible to diseases such as HIV/AIDS, cancer and pneumonia.
Many senior Vietnamese officials also expressed their confidence in the feasibility of proposed ban.
"Whether the ban is feasible or not depends on the awareness of each individual," said Nguyen Huy Quang, head of the MoH's Legal Department.
"As observed in other countries, we call on the responsibility and awareness of alcohol drinkers to follow the law. The ban would effectively minimise the harmful effects of beer and liquor abuse on the community, such as traffic accidents and domestic violence, including sexual violence," Quang claimed.
Senior Lieutenant-Colonel Tran Thanh Tra, chief of HCM City's road and railway police department, said that 70 per cent of the accidents are caused by drunk drivers, and added that such accidents usually happen between 6pm and midnight.
"Drinking after 10pm not only causes accidents but also disrupts public order," Tra said.
Deputy Director of the Legal Department Tran Thi Trang rejected the argument that the ban might harm tourism business. She said nearly 170 countries, including nine ASEAN nations, have banned late-night alcohol sales.
There is controversy of the proposed ban, but all are aware of the harmful effects of alcohol abuse, and the need for the ban.
I remember someone said that when you have good health, you will have a hundred wishes; but when you are in bad health, you will have only one wish, that is to have good health. So, let's support the health ministry in giving the best solutions for a feasible and perfect proposal that aims at preventing late-night binge drinking. — VNS