A measured battle against the bottle

A measured battle against the bottle
Don't overreach: Singaporeans' relationship with alcohol is pragmatic, mature and responsible, and any new regulation should respect this.

SINGAPORE - At the Singapore Management University where I teach, students organise Starry Night, an energy-laden outdoor music festival that attracts close to 1,000 young people from all walks of life.

It should surprise no one that alcohol is available to these party revellers. But there has been no significant trouble.

How Singapore deals with the misuse of alcohol and public drunkenness has taken on greater urgency following December's Little India riot. The Committee of Inquiry determined that a contributory factor to the mayhem was excessive drinking.

There are legitimate and pressing concerns to justify the close scrutiny of the existing regime on alcohol sale and consumption. We are all too aware of the social disamenities caused by irresponsible drinking in our residential heartland and in various nightspot areas.

In the ongoing official review, will the Government introduce stringent new measures to curb alcohol sales and impose broad-ranging restrictions on where and when alcohol may be consumed, like those currently in place in Little India?

Sure, there will always be a minority who abuse alcohol or lose control of themselves after a few drinks. Such irresponsible drinking is not good for them or for society.

However, alcohol abuse is not prevalent in Singapore. The Singapore Mental Health Study of 2010 showed that about 3.1 per cent of the population suffer from alcohol abuse and 0.5 per cent suffer from alcohol dependence at some point in life. But we must not let our guard down.

As drinking is a potentially socially contagious phenomenon, how is drinking behaviour learnt and transmitted in Singapore? How can we harness social pressure to design purposeful interventions that encourage responsible drinking?

The authorities could leverage market research data to understand the drinking culture and norms here, and generate nuanced regulatory responses to alcohol sale and consumption. The insights gleaned from such research could aid our understanding of the dynamics of the drinking culture here.

The key policy challenge in the review process is to tackle the problems caused by those who drink irresponsibly while catering to the vast majority in our vibrant global city who embrace "common-sense drinking".

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