· NGOs have petitioned parliament to adopt legislation banning the production of liquor sachets
Several of Malawi’s NGOs and consumer watchdogs are demanding a total ban on the sale of liquor spirit sachets, which they blame for fuelling alcohol abuse among the youth.
“Malawians are poor, so the most attractive recreational drug they can afford is liquor in sachets,” John Kapito, executive director of the Consumers Association of Malawi (CAMA) told Anadolu Agency.
“Sadly, these sell at less the cost of a lottery ticket,” he said. “For the poor, [liquor] sachets are a jackpot.”
On the market, liquor sachets sell for less than 100 Malawi kwacha ($0.02) each.
Liquor sold in small sachets was first outlawed in the southern African country in May of 2013.
But manufacturers rushed to the courts to appeal the move – and they succeeded.
Since then, liquor sachet sales have risen, resulting in more youths becoming dependent on alcohol – and some dying after taking too many on an empty stomach.
Kapito said the Liquor Act does not allow alcohol to be packaged in plastic, only in glass.
That’s why NGOS have petitioned the parliament to adopt legislation banning the production of liquor sachets.
“We want it banned,” Jefferson Milanzi, leader of Young Achievers for Development, another local NGO, told AA.
“Without a ban, this war will not end,” he said. “Sachets are affecting us, children.”
Parliament’s health committee has backed the calls.
“There is an outcry for a ban on [liquor] sachets and, as a committee, we will support it because we have enough evidence out there that people don’t want sachets,” committee chairperson Juliana Lunguzi told AA.
She said Malawi had so many challenges affecting the health sector, but stressed that prevention of youths getting hooked on drugs should be given priority.
Lunguzi added that her committee wanted to “ensure that youth is protected and raised to become responsible citizens.”
But the calls for a ban have ruffled a few feathers.
“We meet all certification requirements of the Malawi Bureau of Standards,” said Raj Munnangi of the Alcohol Manufacturers Association (AMAM).
He told AA that all alcohol packed in sachets complied with the requirements spelled out in the MalawiCompanies Act.
He dismisses claims that liquor sachets are unsafe and fuelling alcoholism.
Munnangi insisted that the product was cheaper because it was cheap to produce and environmentally friendly as it uses less plastic.
“The sachet size and efficient usage of the packaging material makes it competitive,” he said. “There is nothing wrong with producing a product efficiently.”
“We pay taxes, create jobs and are a market for local ethanol producers,” added Munnangi.
AMAM believes that restricting the sachets would create “undue advantages” in the market for certain kinds of alcohol drinks, like beer and opaque beer.
Many environmentalists argue that, while the liquor sachets only use 2kg of plastic compared to the 14kg used in plastic bottles, the damage caused to the human body outweighs its benefits to the environment.
The government, for its part, is caught between wanting to bag the taxes from the product on one hand and protecting the lives of the youth – a huge voter constituency – on the other.
To discourage production, it imposed a 250-percent Excise Tax and Value Added Tax (VAT) on liquor sachets – considerably higher than any other alcohol beverages.
Nevertheless, demand for sachets remains higher than before, according to the consumers watchdog.
Industry and Trade Minister Joseph Mwanamvekha has contended that, while sachets are a menace, various stakeholders – including consumer protection agencies – should help the government regulate the packaging of liquor spirits sold in sachets.
“The liquor in sachets is a social and health problem, as well as an economic issue,” he told AA.
He said the government wanted the issue dealt with, but noted that it required effort from all relevant stakeholders.
“If we do business as usual, we will lose a generation, because sachets are now being consumed even in schools,” Mwanamvekha asserted.
While people wait for the ban, small shops have opened at every corner in townships and residential areas to cash in on liquor sachets as people – especially the poor – continue to demand it.
“We like it [liquor spirit sachets] because of its high alcohol content and low price,” Amon Juniwelo, a street vendor in Blantyre, told AA.
“You can buy ten sachets and just sip one at a time while in a bus or on your bicycle,” he added.
“One sip and you’re snoring; it makes life easy,” laughed a visibly inebriated Juniwelo.Follow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :