By Jorge Mederos
Latin America consumes 15% of illegal alcoholic beverages, and Mexico is at the top when it comes to the volume consumed, as well as the Dominican Republic, Ecuador and Bolivia for per capita consumption, according to a global study that warns about the public health risks that the regional countries face for this reason.
"Many people suffer from poisoning with ethanol, blindness and hundreds die from the consumption of adulterated beverages," Lourdes Chavarria, team leader of the market research company Euromonitor International, who studied the situation in 14 Latin American countries, told Efe today.
The research also includes eight African countries and two Eastern European countries, where the consumption of illegal beverages without sanitary, security or fiscal control is still greater than in Latin America, with 41% and 26%, respectively.
The study, whose brief was obtained by Efe before its publication this week, suggests that in the 24 countries studied report the consumption of drinks that are smuggled, adulterated, craft, illegally manufactured, homemade and unfit for human consumption, in addition to legal drinks.
The total consumption of legal alcoholic beverages in 2017 was 222.8 million hectoliters, which shows it is a custom that is "deeply rooted" in many societies, said Chavarría.
If the countries studied in Latin America, Africa and Eastern Europe are considered, the annual consumption of alcoholic beverages is 42.3 million hectoliters, of which 10.9 million hectoliters are illegal.
The sale value of these beverages is 4.8 billion dollars and, from the fiscal point of view, the amount of taxes they would generate if they were legal is 1.7 billion dollars.
Euromonitor researchers found that within Latin America, Mexico is the largest market for illegal alcohol in volume, with 42.5% of consumption, followed by Colombia and Peru, with 16% and 12.6%, respectively.
Chile is the country with the lowest consumption of illegal alcohol, with only 1.2%.
However, the impact of this problem is greater in smaller countries such as the Dominican Republic, Ecuador and Bolivia, where consumption per person is above the regional average.
In some Latin American countries, such as El Salvador, the uncontrolled sale of medicinal alcohol is common, in small pharmacies, to be mixed with juices and other beverages.
There are people addicted to alcohol that drink mouth rinses and even perfumes and in the Salvadoran case "medicinal alcohol has two labels, to differentiate with the red one which can be used in beverages," said Chavarría.
The problem is even more alarming because the level of knowledge of consumers, the risks to their health when drinking these beverages are very low and, in general, "they are carried away by the low price, they do not question the origin of the product, nor they check the packages or labels," she added.
The other countries studied in Latin America by Euromonitor were Argentina, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama and Paraguay.
Africa, Ghana, Malawi, Mozambique, Nigeria, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia were included, while Russia and the Czech Republic were chosen by Eastern Europe.
The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 27.7% of alcohol consumption worldwide is illegal, which shows the extent of the problem and the health risks it can cause.
The Euromonitor study highlights that distilled "spirituous" beverages dominate the illicit market, while beer, despite being the most consumed beverage, accounts for only 2.3% of the illicit market.
"The revealing data of the study clearly show the need to improve the regulation and global conditions of alcohol consumption," Chavarría told Efe.
The regulations of the countries are complex and inadequate, the penalties applicable to illicit operators are not dissuasive and the lack of strict control of the supply chain enables trade or makes
these people act with some impunity, says the study.