Malawi's government is under intense pressure from NGOs to ban the packaging and sale of strong spirits in small sachets, which they say promote antisocial behaviour and under-age drinking.
The 100ml plastic liquor sachets, popularly known as 'Blackberries', are sold with brand names like Boss, Red Deer and Raider, at around $0.05 each, making them accessible to low-income consumers and youths.
Although the laws of Malawi prohibit under-18s from patronising drinking joints, the sachet liquor, which has alcoholic con tent of up to 43%, is sold through unlicensed liquor outlets, such as grocery shops, making it readily available to minors.
The Malawi government tried to ban the packaging and sale of Blackberries in May 2013, but manufacturers successfully obtained a court injunction to have the ban overturned. Now, several NGOs are petitioning to reinstate the moratorium on liquor sachets on public health grounds.
A teacher at Catholic Institute primary school in the commercial capital Blantyre, George Luhanga, told African Business that some pupils smuggle the alcoholic substance into classes and drink during break time.
"It becomes difficult to actually catch them red-handed because they make sure to kill the smell by chewing bubble gum or eating some mangoes to suppress the alcoholic smell before they enter classes. You would only notice from the way they are behaving in class," he says.
Programme Officer for the Non Communicable Diseases and Mental Health in the Ministry of Health, Dr Beatrice Mwagomba, told reporters in the capital Lilongwe that cheap sachet alcohol has resulted in the increasing cases of major non-communicable diseases and also the spread of HIV/AIDS.
"Alcohol is among the major causes of diabetes, hypertension or cardiovascular diseases in general, respiratory diseases as well as other types of cancers, such as liver cancer and oesophagus cancer," she said.
Within the law
The Alcohol Manufacturers Association of Malawi insisted that the sale and packaging of the liquor sachets is not illegal, and argues that they meet regulations set up by the Malawi Bureau of Standards, and comply with Malawi Companies Act. The association said that the government should instead create a comprehensive policy, involving all stakeholders, to restrict the sale of alcohol to minors, and to move the points of sale away from highways and school zones.
"We meet all certification requirements of the Malawi Bureau of Standards. We pay taxes...