Date of this Version
BMC Public Health 2014 14:731; doi:10.1186/1471-2458-14-731
Background: Gaps exist in knowledge about the production and use of traditional alcohols, particularly in Asia. This study adds new information about the nature, production and sale of traditional distilled spirit alcohol in Vietnam. Method: This was an ethnographic study of traditional distilled spirit alcohol production in rural areas of three provinces in Vietnam. Researchers interviewed more than 300 individuals and recorded responses to general open-ended questions about local alcohol production. Interviews were recorded, transcribed, and studied to discern what information about traditional alcohol was important to the speakers. Results: Methods of production followed long-held traditions. Participants listed both personal and community benefits (economic, health, and social) from traditional alcohol making. Older people favoured traditional alcohol, while younger people favoured brand-name beer. Typically people consumed 2-4 drinks daily, mainly at meal times. People consumed more alcohol at special events and festivals. Distribution patterns ranged from low-risk distribution to family and neighbours to high-risk distribution by an agent who might combine alcohol from several producers, which increases the opportunity for dilution and adulteration. The most commonly listed health risks associated with locally-made alcohol were local air pollution and water pollution; participants also mentioned traffic crashes and bad public behaviour. Depending on the location, community leaders reported that production may be relatively stable or it may be declining. Conclusions: Traditional alcohol manufacture, sale, and use in Vietnam is a long-standing practice and low- to moderate-risk to health. There do not appear to be instances of accidental or intentional contamination. Urbanization seems to be affecting the market share of traditional alcohol as urbanized youth turn to branded products, mainly beer, making traditional alcohol making and consumption an activity mainly linked to older people in rural areas. In the rural areas surveyed, significant economic and social benefits are derived from traditional alcohol manufacture, sale, and use. Policy makers designing ways to reduce alcohol-related risks and harms need to give thoughtful consideration to the role traditional alcohol plays in the local society and to suggest changes that do not create unintended problems.