Prohibition of Liquor and Tobacco

29 July 2007

Sri Lankans have yet to learn a lesson in Prohibition. That the sale and consumption of liquor/tobacco is legal in Sri Lanka is a great blessing: the industry is mostly in the hands of law-abiding citizens (in fact the tobacco and liquor industry leaders are exemplars of good business management). Habitual drinkers/smokers need not hide their habits and therefore are known to their friends and families, which makes it easier for them to receive help. Prices are not hugely inflated due to concealed production, trafficking or “protection”. There is no exponential addiction chain (as in drugs, where addicts finance their own addiction by becoming dealers themselves, pushing the drug to new, younger markets).

The effects of Prohibition are not hypothesis: America experienced it during the Prohibition Era. During that period, when the possession and production of liquor was banned in the US, the liquor industry looked just like the drug “industry” looks today. The huge surge of organized crime during that period–often dramatized today in “gangster” movies–was a direct result of the liquor ban. The very measure that was meant to reduce crime, gave birth to more of it.

The Law may prohibit CRIMES, but not VICES. Prohibition of a PERCEIVED necessity creates business for organized crime. For some, smoking is a necessary vice; for some drinking is a necessary vice; for the drug addict, his dose is absolutely necessary. The government has no right to pass MORAL judgment on its citizens, only LEGAL judgment. Caesar may not do God’s job. Drunk driving is a crime. Drinking is not. Pushing drugs is a crime. Taking them is not. Smoking in a poorly ventilated public place is a crime. Smoking is not. It is ludicrous for a government to pass laws to protect people from themselves: few entities harm people more than governments do.

The recent legislation against smoking in public is disturbing. It is a clear case of government stepping over lines of authority and may be an omen of more to come. As said before in this blog, politicians are the last group on earth who should be preaching morals, let alone enforcing them.

The government should repeal all alcohol/tobacco related regulations except the following: driving/performing risky operations under influence; sale to minors; smoking in a private establishments (e.g. restaurants) with no-smoking signs.

It would be good if even drugs can be legalized: prices will drop drastically, organized crime would lose business and the addiction chain would be broken; it will be easier to track and help addicts. Unfortunately, this is not a realistic option today. First, no one would accept this solution and second, no single country can do it in isolation. Drug trade is an international “industry” and any single country that were to legalize drugs would immediately become a hub of operations for the drug cartels in other countries. Drugs may be a problem too far gone to correct by deregulation.