Whether those who imbibe are rich or poor, excessive consumption of alcohol appears to be a widespread practice in the Kingdom of Wonder. The World Health Organization attributed 2,000 deaths and injuries to the drink last year.
Although the government of Cambodia has been drafting legislation since 2008 to discourage some drinking, enactment has yet to be achieved.
Incredibly, there are no restrictions on the sale or purchase of alcohol, for which the tax is surprisingly low. A case of locally brewed beer might run a little more than $10. A whole liter of Sapphire gin costs less than $12.
Groups of construction workers with nothing much else to do at the end of the day can be seen enjoying inexpensive rice wine, cheap spirits or beer. They are happy to share, happier as the evening wears on. When I recently came across workers near my apartment house nearly finished with a liter of inexpensive rum, they cheerfully offered me some from the bottle. I did, however, make an excuse for declining their hospitality.
Even during the day, a few security personnel, parking attendants or both may gather on sidewalks around a case of beer to drink nearly to oblivion. (Let’s just say that devotion to the job is not a universally treasured value.)
Privileged young men in their 20s who have parental funds to waste on luxury items, expensive restaurants and other extravagant purchases think nothing of ordering multiple bottles of top-shelf whiskey such as 15-year-old scotch to share with friends at clubs. So I am told. Certainly, evidence of the consequences are obvious at my gym the following day.
Those toward the bottom of the economic scale hardly can be blamed for a diversion they can afford, though barely, given incomes that barely sustain them.
More than 11 per cent of those 8 to 17 years old are said by one advocate to consume alcohol, and 82 per cent of those 18 to 32 do so. Although the government drafted legislation to set a minimum age for drinking at 21, the law has gone nowhere and teen-age beer consumption is endemic.
What I have seen recently does not bode well for quick progress; a newspaper article has a government official expressing concern about the nature of advertisements for alcoholic beverages without promising any other action. Legislation is evidently a mere dream, and not a very compelling one at that.
It is suspected that beer brewers eager to protect their sales are causing the government to drag its feet. It takes nothing more than connections and dollars to slow things down.
Although the vast majority of Cambodians reportedly favor restrictions, the consequences of inaction are grave: Alcohol is the fifth-biggest cause of disease and fatal accidents in Cambodia, and its effect on youths seriously damages their development, according to the World Health Organization.
What a shame. And what a shameful lack of governmental resolve to fix things.
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