28 Mayıs 2013 Salı

A futile debate on alcohol

Are they really threaten
While Turkey was passionately discussing issues like the Syrian civil war and its repercussions on Turkey or how the Kurdish settlement process closely interacts with drafting a new constitution, a new law on alcoholic beverage sales and consumption suddenly dropped like a bomb in the political arena. Most columns and TV debates have been reserved for this new debate, not to mention the violent exchange of accusations between the representatives of the incumbent party and the stars of the opposition.

I followed the furious fight on the alcohol bans as much as I could, but I should confess that I could not understand why the issue has made so much noise. You readers are certainly well informed on the content of the new law through the excellent summary published in Today's Zaman on Saturday, but let me just remind you of the gist. A bill proposed by the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) seeking restrictions on the sale and consumption of alcoholic beverages was approved by Parliament on Friday. The official justification of the law is to protect children and young people from the harmful effects of alcoholic beverages. So far so good! How can this protection be secured? Well, campaigns, promotions or events that aim to encourage the use or sale of alcoholic products will not be allowed. In addition, the sale of alcoholic beverages from shops will be banned between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. Health warnings will be included on the bottles or other packaging of alcoholic drinks. The sale and consumption of alcoholic beverages will not be allowed at medical or sports facilities or at those along highways, nor will the sale of these beverages be allowed on university campuses.
Shops selling alcoholic beverages will need to be at least 100 meters away from schools, university preparation course facilities and places of worship. However, the 100-meter obligation will not apply to facilities that have a tourism certificate. Shops that already have a license to sell alcoholic beverages will also be exempted from this 100-meter obligation. Furthermore, the already existing limitations, bans and fines on those who are caught drinking and driving have been made more severe.
I cannot see in these measures any attempt to seriously limit the consumption of alcoholic beverages, which is already very limited in Turkey. Research by Bahçeşehir University's Center for Economic and Social Research (BETAM) -- “Taxes increased, alcohol consumption decreased,” published April 11, 2011 -- showed that in 2003, only 8 percent of households were consuming alcoholic beverages. This number decreased to 6 percent in 2008 in correlation with the high tax increase that raised the unit price of alcoholic beverages 34 percent compared to the consumer price index (CPI). So, there is not a severe problem with alcoholism in Turkey. Those who would like to drink at home can continue to buy bottles before 10 p.m. This ban could just reduce a little bit of the consumption by young men who don't feel they've had enough to drink once midnight has passed.
Those who would like to drink at their usual bar or restaurant may not be surprised by a label at the door saying, “Sorry, we are closed due to the new ban.”
It may be expected that the number of drunk drivers will diminish; nobody will shed a tear over that.
Over all, it is possible that the consumption of alcoholic beverages per person will decrease to some extent, particularly due to the bans on advertisement rather than the limitations to be place on sales. Good for health, bad for tax revenues. Finance Minister Mehmet Şimşek is probably not very happy. Also, small shops will lose part of their clientele to supermarkets, particularly those customers who used to buy after 10 p.m. The AK Party should be reminded that small shopkeepers are still its voters, but this is its own business.
So what? Simply, the new law has become an occasion for the opposition to claim, once again, that people's lifestyle choices have been put under threat. As an occasional drinker -- rakı with kebabs and wine with fish or succulent steaks -- I do not see any threat. The AK Party's defense is that the new law aims to sustain a healthy young generation.
Will the new restrictions and bans prevent the new generation from later experiencing alcohol-related health problems? Certainly they cannot, and I do not think that the AK Party believes that. Just as the advertisement bans on smoking had a limited effect, so it will be the same for alcoholic beverages. However, the new law on alcohol will be a good message for conservative voters, a reminder that the AK Party has not forgotten that it is a conservative party.

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