Why does the prime minister dislike alcohol?
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.