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LETTER | Samsu is a cheap intoxicating liquor, widely consumed by young people. A Consumers Association of Penang (CAP) survey showed that, once commonly consumed by estate workers and village folks, it has now become a trendy drink among the urbanites. It is popularly drunk by youths of all races and foreign workers.

It has been a common practice among youth to mix samsu with cola or carbonated drinks, or pour it into plastic bags with ice cubes and sip it with straws.

The alcohol content in this cheap liquor is alarmingly high, ranging from 17 percent to 48 percent. Diseases associated with alcohol include cancers, liver disorders, cirrhosis of liver and heart ailments. Due to the high content of alcohol, the health of many poor people are ruined.

Manufactures of samsu have resorted to many misleading health claims. One brand recommends it for anaemia, loss of appetite, indigestion and touts its "healing properties".

Children as young as 12 years of age can be found consuming samsu and our survey showed that mainly school dropouts are easy targets for this cheap liquor.

There are over a hundred brands of samsu available in the market. This intoxicating liquor gained its popularity because of its cheap price and easy availability. Buying samsu is as simple as buying sweets or candy in sundry shops. Anyone, including children, can buy it without any hassle.

The price for a 150ml bottle of samsu varies from between RM3 to RM5, hence making it affordable to children.

Regular drinkers can easily buy samsu on credit.

Under section 32(1) and 33(1) of the Excise Act 1976, no person can sell (either wholesale or retail) intoxicating liquor either for use within a premise or outside without a license. The license issued must specify the precise place where sale is allowed. Any sale without a license is an offence under the Act.

A license is required for the sale of samsu. However, the demand is great and thus some shops do not even bother to apply for a license to sell this killer brew.

In the past, CAP has made several reports to the Customs and Excise Department about the illegal sale of samsu. However, till today the illegal sale of samsu still prevails. There is an increased number of unlicensed dealers engaging in samsu sales.

Samsu addictions have brought untold damages to families and communities. Not only are the drinkers affected, but also women and children who will suffer the ramification of the drinking habits of their husbands and fathers.

The monthly expenditure on samsu eats up a big portion of a family’s income. Someone who is new to samsu may spend about RM90 a month on the liquor. As he gets addicted and starts to drink more, he may end up spending up to RM300 a month on it.

Both locals and foreign workers are spending that much. Foreign workers drink to “drown” their long hours of work (up to 18 hours) and tiredness.

Taking an average monthly income of RM600, this would mean that more than half of his income is drained down his throat in the form of samsu. This is usually at the expense of more needful necessities such as food and clothing for children.

One housewife in CAP’s survey said that her husband even stole money from the house to buy samsu. “Once he stole two chickens to buy this evil drink,” she said.

With current price hike of food and household products, this drinking habit will cause more social problems and can lead to violence, child abuse, traffic accidents, suicides, marriage breakups and homicide. Even foreign workers are sending less or no money home to their families as they can no longer afford to do so.

Immediate positive measures need to be taken in order to stop the growing problem of samsu sale and addiction in order to protect our society from the social ills and serious health hazards of samsu.

The Excise Act 1976 should be strictly enforced to prevent the illegal sale of samsu. Unlicensed dealers of samsu and other liquors must be singled out and given a mandatory jail sentence.

Meanwhile the price of intoxicating liquor should be based on its alcohol content; if the alcohol content is high, the price should be costly as this can prevent easy accessibility to youths.

With what is happening, we are looking at an unfolding social tragedy and the government is slow in addressing the problem.

SM Mohamed Idris is president of the Consumers Association of Penang. 

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

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