Brazil, where drinking cold beer and sugar cane liquor is almost a national pastime, will get tough on alcohol abuse under a policy promoted by its outspoken new health minister.
“Every day people are dying, people are suffering violence, people are being hospitalized because of alcohol consumption,” Health Minister Jose Temporao said at a signing ceremony for the new policy on Wednesday.
Temporao blamed excess drinking for a list of social ills from wife-beating to traffic accidents. The national health system spends more than $20 million annually on drug and alcohol treatment, he said.
The government plans to restrict beer advertising and to tighten up checks on drunk driving. It will also propose laws to Congress to stop gas stations selling alcoholic beverages.
Brazil is the world’s fourth biggest beer-market after the United States, China and Germany.
President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva himself has been known to enjoy beer and cachaca, a fiery liquor made from sugar cane that poor Brazilians can buy for as little as $1 per bottle.
A Health Ministry survey found that a quarter to a third of Brazilian men drink too much. The heaviest drinkers were in the northeastern city of Salvador. In Rio de Janeiro, one in four men regularly drank too much, it said.
One of the main goals of the new policy is to crack down on drunk driving, which Temporao said caused more than half of Brazil’s 37,500 traffic deaths per year.
“Many of us have family in the countryside and we know the cachaca habit. Saturdays, Sundays, people drink one cachaca, two cachacas, three cachacas, four cachacas and dad keeps on going and then he gets in his car and drives home,” Cities Minister Marcio Fortes said.
The government will hand down tougher sentences for drunk drivers and set up speed traps to help catch them on Friday and Saturday nights, Fortes said.
$10 billion worth of beer sold a year
New limits on alcohol advertising could take effect next week. That could displease Brazilian brewers, which sell $10 billion worth of beer and spend $500 million on ads every year.
The limits will restrict the content of ads and when they can appear on television. Brewers have lobbied to avoid such state regulation in the past.
The government is also targeting women, who drink more than they used to, and native Indians, who have long been prone to alcohol abuse.