And by bootleg, I mean alcohol which is made from, or at least contains, mosquito repellent, cough medicine, battery acid, mortuary formaldehyde and methanol among many other dubious, toxic and often lethal substances. How did I know about it? Well, I could just have found out by reading the report in the Guardian. But in fact, I was alerted by Hannah, who (sadly) left us at the end of March, to go and work full time for IARD, International Alliance for Responsible Drinking. And this report was her first big project in her new job.
IARD is a world wide, not-for-profit organisation, operating in over 110 countries and supported by the alcohol industry – ‘working to be part of the solution envisaged by the world’s governments when they agreed to the global target of a 10% reduction in the harmful use of alcohol by 2025.’
The figures are staggering – in seven of the African countries covered by the report over 60% of the alcohol consumption is illegal. This means that it can often be harmful although some experts in public health suggest that the report somewhat exaggerates its toxic effect. The fact remains, however, that this year 141 people died in Indonesia from drinking alcohol made with mosquito repellant and cough medicine; 150 US tourist suffered severe health problems in 2017 in Mexico after drinking alcohol containing high levels of methanol; 70 died in Russia in 2016 after drinking bath tincture containing methanol and 100 people died in Libya on 2013 after drinking distilled bokha – and those are just the fatal or near fatal incidents.
And then of course there is the money aspect. IARD reckons that the the combined loss in tax revenue in the 18 countries they covered in their report is around £1.5 billion pounds – mostly in low or middle income countries in Africa and south America.
IARD see the way forward to be in private public partnerships adn the do seem to be having some success, even if there is still a long way to go. In South Africa local shebeen operators have come together with the alcohol industry to develop a code of practice intended to limit the sale of low quality alcohol and prevent harmful drinking. Some of the bigger manufacturers (Diageo, AB InBev, SABMiller) have also developed low cost beers and lagers made from local ingredients which will be available to the lowest income consumers who were at greatest risk from the illegal production. Industry has also collaborated with local police and enforcement agencies to target illegal production and producers. And making the world more aware of the problem can only help.
If you want to read about the problem in more detail, see IARD’s report, Alcohol in the Shadow Economy.