The good and mostly, the bad of the alcohol control policy


Retailing of alcoholic beverages in Kenya and elsewhere has traditionally been controlled by government agencies. When Mr. John Mututho (known for his Mututho laws) targeted consumption and sale of alcohol then, the issue stirred controversy within some quarters and the public at large with Kenyans protesting the ‘inhumane’ treatment as it were.


Let me tell you Maina, the government of Kenya has re-sneaked in the infamous ‘alcoblow’ ‘chini ya maji’ targeting those who are ‘maji’ and insist on driving home. The million dollar question that still lingers is that with the obvious negative effects of “a drinking nation” is President William Ruto and his ‘stringent alcohol control’ policies the Messiah that we all have been waiting for?


Policies regulating the environment within which alcohol is produced and marketed (particularly its price, production and availability) have been found to be very effective in reducing alcohol-related harm in the society. Enforced legislative measures to reduce drunk-driving and individually directed interventions to already at-risk drinkers have become the regulators major areas of concern with Nairobi residents being the most affected.

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Lately, you will hardly ever drive through Langata road (believed to be the headquarter of sin) or Uhuru highway without hiccups on an early Saturday morning as drunk drivers are apprehended. E


The most important factor however remains that the measures are for the good of the drinkers. Consumers tend to drink less alcohol, and have fewer alcohol-related problems; the social costs of the “drinking nation remain a major concern to any government even though major challenges, including developing a better understanding of the effects of drinking on labor-market productivity and how best to balance the conflicts between individual liberty and community well-being, still remain a matter of a delicate balancing act.


The production and sale of alcoholic beverages account for quite some amount of share of national product in the Kenya and other east African economies, however, the deleterious effects of alcohol consumption on health and safety constitute a substantial economic burden, reducing our overall standard of living.

Reducing Demand for alcohol by increasing price.

The most compelling argument has been that “alcohol is different” when it comes to the price effect may be that drinking is habit forming. Conventional wisdom (but not, it should be noted, economic theory) suggests that price will not matter much to those who have become addicted.

 In response to a general price increase for alcoholic beverages, alcoholics without much income could preserve their habit by seeking cheaper sources of alcohol: drinking off-premises rather than in bars, or buying illegal brews instead. However, and despite these plausible speculations, the evidence is clear that alcoholic beverages do obey the economists’ dictum after all: An increase in price results in reduced consumption, not only of the volume of beverage but also of ethanol.

The economic risk of exposing youths to drinking

Much of the econometric research of survey data has focused on drinking by youths. Teenagers and young adults are of special concern for several reasons. First, youths exhibit relatively high rates (compared to their elders) of drinking and involvement in motor vehicle accidents and violent crime. Second, to the extent that drinking is habit forming, youthful drinking sets the pattern for later consumption in addition to that drinking behavior during the transition from adolescence to adulthood may have consequences for human capital and family formation therefore impacting hugely on the future of the economy.

Heavy drinking and addiction

Some people acquire such a strong appetite for alcohol that they are willing to sacrifice their health and money for the sake of continued heavy drinking. Symptoms of strong commitment to alcohol are the basis for a diagnosis of alcohol dependence, a form of mental illness more commonly known as alcoholism. Often, alcoholics are described as suffering a “loss of control” over their drinking.


Highway safety

The implementation of the ‘alcoblow’ will arguably to a great extent reduce alcohol related accidents and deaths on the highway which will trickle down to a reduced social costs.

Alcohol advertising

Advertising also plays some role in promoting alcohol abuse and highway fatalities. Henry Saffer analyzed the relationship between fatality rates and alcohol advertising in the top seventy-five media markets in the U.S. After accounting for regional price differences and population variables such as income and religion, he found that alcohol advertising was significantly related to total and nighttime vehicle fatalities, to the extent that a total ban on alcohol advertising might be expected to save several thousand lives per year.

Impact of fines and liability laws

Much of the drinking that leads to drunk driving occur on-premises, at bars, clubs, and restaurants. Different countries have acted in various ways to reduce this deadly linkage, for instance by using fines or even license revocation to discourage service to minors and intoxicated persons. A number of countries have “dram shop” liability for commercial servers, holding them potentially liable for the damage done by patrons after drinking too much at these establishments. There is some evidence that the imposition of liability is effective at reducing highway fatalities.

 Effect of Drinking on productivity

The belief that drinking impairs productivity has helped to motivate a wide range of both private and public responses, from workplace rules banning drinking on the job to alcohol regulations governing the armed forces. Historically, this concern with the quality and quantity of work was a major factor in nineteenth-century temperance movements in the United States and Europe. In recent times the belief that alcohol abuse reduces the productivity of employees has resulted in companies implementing policies that touch on decorum at the work place putting stringent measures against being drunk at the work place.

Evaluation of Alcohol-Control Measures

Alcohol-control measures are effective only to the extent that they affect consumers’ decisions about drinking. By restricting alcohol availability, impinge on the enjoyment consumers derive from alcohol which does affect the enjoyment of individual liberty. In judging how high to set the sin tax law, or how much to restrict on-premises service or alcohol advertising, it is necessary to weigh the loss of enjoyment against the possible gains in health, safety, public order, and so forth. A direct comparison of these apparently in-commensurable consequences is not easy, but economics provides a well-developed framework for doing just that.

Arguments against stringent policy measures have been that just because an alcohol-control measure is effective at reducing abuse, does not by itself justify its implementation. The costs as well as the benefits of government interventions deserve attention. Economics offers a normative framework for evaluating the trade-offs involved, one that honors consumers’ preferences and acknowledges that alcohol is a source of legitimate enjoyment but that people will tend to drink too much unless they are forced to take account of the full costs associated with consumption.

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