EMRE DELİVELİ > Why does the prime minister dislike alcohol?

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The bill restricting the sale, consumption and advertisement of alcohol was passed by Parliament’s Planning and Budget Commission on May 22.

It has softened up a lot from its original form, but it is still making it much more difficult to sell and consume alcohol. You should not see this latest law as a single act. The government has been levying heavy taxes on alcohol since it came to power more than a decade ago. As a result, while the consumer price index has risen 132 percent since 2003, the increase on alcoholic beverages has been a whopping 346 percent.

The government claims that the rises are for tax revenue purposes. Since demand for alcohol is likely to be inelastic, this makes sense in theory. In a research note written in November 2010, Istanbul think-tank Betam underlined that tax revenues did indeed rise 50 percent in real terms (net inflation) from 2003 to 2008.

However, Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç, whose candor I have always admired, famously stated once that since they could not ban alcohol outright, they were discouraging people from drinking with the high taxes. Betam notes that alcohol consumption fell by one-third in the same period. When seen in this way, the new law is the closest thing to an absolute sales ban for the likes of Arınç.

So why the dislike for alcohol? Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan kicked off his latest assault on alcohol at a symposium on global health policy at the end of April, emphasizing the health benefits of an alcohol-free life. I completely agree. Not only does alcohol abuse cause long-term health problems, there are short-term complications as well, as I recently found out after half a bottle of rakı.

You may think Turkey has a serious alcohol problem, but according to the Turkish Statistical Institute’s Household Budget Surveys, only around 6 percent of Turkish households consume alcohol. These results are consistent with the Institute’s 2011 Family Structure Survey, which found that 83 percent of Turkish adults never use alcohol. Most of the rest are casual drinkers; less than 1 percent said they drank every day.

The prime minister highlighted the role of alcohol in traffic accidents as well, saying that “the drunk driver is a monster with a weapon.” He is right of course, but since many Turks do not drink, there aren’t many of those monsters. In fact, out of the 134,170 accidents causing death or injury in 2012, only 1,819 were caused by driving under the influence. Speeding caused more than one-third of the accidents.

Erdoğan also claims that alcohol causes crime, but using regional alcohol consumption and crime statistics from 2010, I could not find a relationship. Many crimes are committed because of alcohol for sure, but there are also other factors such as income, education, migration and urbanization.

As you can see, I still haven’t been able to answer my question. If Erdoğan dislikes alcohol because it is prohibited in the Quran, he should say so and get on with it.


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hanni bal

6/19/2013 5:54:14 PM

full alcohol consumption is not economical, unhealthy and forbidden to use.The data shows it is better to live without alcohol than to use them same as the western and the rest of the world loves them. The wisdom in the Quran simply tells us that before +1500 years back.

Köksüz Kosmopolit

5/27/2013 12:19:32 PM

@AI, smoking kills more people than alcohol in the UK and Germany as well. But in both the UK and Germany, alcohol abuse is a major public health issue. In Turkey, it isn’t. I am sure there are Turks who claim they never drink but do enjoy an occasional glass. But Turks who drink (whether openly or secretly) just don’t seem to drink very much. Sure, you’ll find a few drunkards. But most Turks who drink do so moderately; exactly what doctors suggest provides a mild health benefit!

Lale Devre

5/27/2013 11:25:29 AM

According to TURKSTAT, the leading cause of death in Turkey, at 40% of all deaths, is circulatory diseases involving the lungs and heart. This would suggest that the health results of cigarette smoking are far more toxic than alcohol.

Emre Deliveli

5/26/2013 2:47:29 PM

@D Bogosian: The earlier tax hikes increased revenue because consumption did not go down as much. But the new policies will probably drive down consumption a bit: @Laz Kemal: :):):) And as I wrote to commenter @K M, for me, "A Merlot, my kingdom for a Merlot":)...

Laz Kemal

5/25/2013 8:51:36 AM

Emre, on the humorous side if your reported side effect was regularly possible, it could explain it all ! Since the Islamists can’t control themselves to a point where women have to cover up because even their hair represents sex to Islamists, then maybe they are afraid alcohol may affect them negatively and they may not be able to get “it” up just by seeing a strand of a woman’s hair. That must make them very angry !!

Laz Kemal

5/25/2013 8:42:09 AM

If you really mean what I think you mean with your comment “..could not get “it” up after half a bottle of rakı” you should know that an approved and marketed medication can have similar side effect on different people. Further, even drinking too much water in a short time can have a toxic affect. You should also know that alcohol can have positive health effect as well. Read up on the anti-inflammatory and anti cancer properties of resveratrol found in red wine.

Laz Kemal

5/25/2013 8:33:38 AM

Your last sentence answers your first. He is the same guy who in 1994 is known to have said “Thank God Almighty, I am a servant of the Sharia.” In life everything is to be done within limits and by using your brains. That’s why most humans, except the Islamists, have evolved brains. Since the Islamists cannot control themselves they try to dominate and control others.

D Bogosian

5/24/2013 10:13:36 PM

@ Emre Deliveli re stricter than US. Ah, that makes a difference. A 'tightening the screw' option supports a 'creeping full ban' strategy—eh, bummer. How do you imagine this will impact tax revenue? I believe you say that Betam reported increased revenue even as consumption went down (is that right?). How might the Government have parsed revenue with new restrictions? It's not likely PM figured the trend of higher rev/lower consumption would continue...is it?

Nadiri Başaran

5/24/2013 6:49:33 PM

Erdogan does not dislike alcohol, he just doesn't believe it is 'right' for muslims to drink it. As PM, he is perfectly entitled to try to ban it. Secularist, get over it till the next election and try to see if you can do better than that lot who were in power before RTE.

muharrem sev

5/24/2013 6:49:15 PM

What we observe here is another round of Islamic ideology in play. References to safety, practices in secular Scandinavia, indirect tax revenue and so on are all effective distracting factors. Efforts to make adultery a criminal offence failed in 2005 but the issue is not dead. The AKP came to power because most Turks want more religion (Islamic values) in their lives. Younger generations (to whom the future of Turkey belongs) are brought up as "good Muslims" and will likely want more religion
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