Brazil alcohol ban hard for retailers to swallow

Government tries to limit TV advertising and sales along highways

A decade after it introduced some of the toughest antitobacco laws in the world, Brazil is proposing similar legislation aimed at curbing growing rates of alcohol abuse.

President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva wants to prohibit daytime alcohol advertising on radio and television. His government temporarily banned the sale of alcohol on federal highways earlier this month and aims to implement similar measures at urban gas stations.

"The country can't stand by with its arms folded while hundreds of people, especially the young, die each day from the abusive consumption of alcohol," Health Minister José Gomes Temporão said.

The measures come on the heels of two studies that showed more Brazilians are abusing alcohol and at an earlier age. The percentage of people over the age of 12 dependent on alcohol rose to 12.3 percent in 2005, up from 11.2 percent in 2001, according a study by the Brazilian Center for Information on Psychotropic Drugs and the Federal University of São Paulo.

"The data also indicates the consumption of alcohol in ever younger age groups and suggests the need for a revision of control, prevention, and treatment measures," Pedro Gabriel Delgado, an expert on the issue at the health ministry, said in an e-mail response to questions.

The government is focusing on advertising and drunk driving.

Mr. Temporão said that on federal highways alone alcohol is a factor in more than half of all accidents. Alcohol-related accidents cost more than $6 billion dollars a year in lost production, car damage, and health costs, the ministry says.

In addition to the temporary ban on highway sales, the government also sent a bill to Congress to put wine and beer in the same category as liquor. The move would limit alcohol advertising on television and radio between 6 a.m. and 9 p.m.

The measures are reminiscent of a 1999 campaign that banned cigarette smoking in enclosed spaces such as bars and restaurants. That campaign helped contribute to a 12 percent reduction in the number of smokers here, Dr. Delgado said.

But efforts to curb alcohol abuse face stiff opposition. Two big retail store chains, Walmart and Carrefour, won injunctions against the ban and industry groups are fighting them as "unnecessary."

"We don't need new laws," says Marcos Mesquita, general secretary of Sindicerv, a major association of beer producers. "We need to educate people and punish them when they flout the laws we have."

The government is already feeling the pressure. Although it claimed the measures had led to a decline in road deaths over the busy carnival weekend, the justice minister admitted the legislation might be altered to allow people to buy booze on highways, if it was not for immediate consumption. Police say that would undermine the effectiveness of the ban.

Supporters of the ban note that 62 lawmakers, or 1 in 10, had their election campaigns financed by makers of beer, wine, or cachaça (a distilled alcoholic beverage made from sugar cane), according to the Congresso em Foco website.

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