Alcoholism is an underrated social menace in the state and as a result given only scant attention by the authorities as they focus on drug abuse which seemingly poses a greater threat to the society.
While it is true that addiction to heroin, Ecstasy pills and similar harmful drugs exacts more immediate harm and social ills, alcoholism especially among youths poses a broader and more insidious threat to our society.
Alcohol addiction seems to have fallen under the radar of the enforcement agencies despite the seriousness of its threat and the harm it is wreaking on society.
The call by Assistant Minister of Youth and Sports Datuk Abdul Karim Hamzah last Friday for control of sales of locally distilled liquors and clampdown on moonshiners is a timely reminder of the threat of alcoholism on our society especially among the youths.
The federal government is aware of the problem of alcoholism among our youths and has passed a bill restricting sale of alcohol to people above 21 years old to come into effect next year.
In political cliché that is a step in the right direction but it is doubtful that the new regulation would have much impact on the fight against alcohol addiction.
At present sale of alcoholic drinks is prohibited to youths under 18 but obviously this has little or no effect in stopping youths below that age from obtaining the drinks because many of our youths hooked on alcohol are below 18.
As for the idea putting warnings on bottles of alcoholic drinks to deter people from drinking, it is likely to be an exercise in futility.
If that ploy could work then people would have stopped smoking since despite graphic warnings on the harm of smoking on packets of cigarette smokers still puff away.
However, these legislations are not entirely ineffective and Abdul Karim hit the nail on the head when he said the key to the effectiveness of the regulations is enforcement but this is easier said than done.
Cheap locally distilled liquors are so easily available and are sold in many small village shops and even in supermarkets making enforcing the regulation next to impossible.
Shopkeepers would not bother too much about the ban on sale of alcoholic drinks to underage youths and it is impossible for enforcement officers to be everywhere to enforce that restriction.
Compounding the situation are the illegal distillers and brewers who are not bound by any restriction in their sale of their products.
The more effective way to curb the spread of alcoholism among the youths is to approach the problem holistically focussing on its cause while trying to fight the symptoms.
Short-term campaigns and slogans have proven to be ineffective and so the authorities must turn to sustained campaigns in the fight against alcoholism and the key to success in the long term is to start with young children.
The campaigns should start in primary schools by exposing the pupils to harm of uncontrolled consumption of alcohol through short films and posters.
The state should also encourage the setting up of centres or groups like ‘Alcoholic anonymous’ by NGOs or religious institutions by funding their activities to help those wishing to kick the addiction to alcoholic drinks.
Abdul Karim has made the right call on the social menace of cheap liquor in the state he should now take the initiative through his ministry to look into ways to curb this problem.
An important first step should be a forum for NGOs, social workers and officers from relevant government agencies to come up with a blueprint to combat alcoholism in the state.