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Editorial: Ease alcoholics into abstinence

Last week, a 55-year-old man from Cuddalore district died after consuming methanol diluted with water. A few days before that, three persons consumed varnish and lost their lives.

Editorial: Ease alcoholics into abstinence


Incidents involving alcohol addicts jumping off bridges and hanging themselves have also been reported. Since March 24, the police have booked over 2,000 cases related to the brewing and sales of illicit liquor across the state. With the Centre extending the complete ban on the sale of liquor till May 3, the number of deaths related to alcohol dependency and consumption of spurious liquor is only set to rise. Despite researchers globally working overtime on COVID-19, none have so far found any connection between alcohol consumption and the spread of the coronavirus. The WHO has issued a directive on the general weakening of the body’s immunity due to alcohol, which makes one more vulnerable to a virus attack. So should the state be concerned about the impact of keeping TASMAC outlets closed amid a global health emergency?

To get a clearer picture of this, it’s important to understand the history of prohibition in India, particularly in Tamil Nadu. According to the Directive Principles of State Policy (DPSP) in Article 47 of the Constitution of India, ‘State shall endeavour to bring about prohibition of intoxicating drinks and drugs which are injurious to health’. Regardless of the Constitution stating these directive principles, which are the foundation stones of our laws, only a handful of states have enforced total prohibition and have been highly unsuccessful at that, as anyone who has lived in these states would affirm. Other states, in gross violation of the DPSP, have turned to alcohol as a major source of tax revenue instead of implementing prohibition.

In TN, prohibition was introduced in 1952 by the then chief minister C Rajagopalachari, only to be suspended in 1971 by M Karunanidhi who allowed the sale of arrack and toddy. In 1983, Tamil Nadu State Marketing Corporation Limited (TASMAC) was formed and vested with the exclusive privilege of the wholesale of Indian Manufactured Foreign Liquor (IMFL) across TN and later took over monopoly over retail sales in 2003. Before taking over retail sales, the state’s annual revenue through TASMAC was Rs 2,828.09 crore. Over the years, this revenue component has exponentially increased and now stands at around Rs 31,000 crore (for the financial year 2019-20), which is roughly 15% of the state’s revenue for the year. A success indeed for a business in violation of India’s founding DPSP. Behind this achievement, lies the reality of lakhs of youth destroying their lives, broken families, and violent crimes that have direct and established links with an increase in alcohol consumption. Does that mean introducing prohibition, and that too all of a sudden would be advisable? The adverse effects of alcohol-withdrawal among heavy drinkers is a fact. They range from mild nausea and irritation to hallucinations, seizures, and delirium, which could lead to death in some cases.

If total prohibition is the intention, the government needs to ease consumers into abstinence. Just poorly-filmed awareness programmes on the ill-effects of drinking are not enough. There needs to be a focus on removing the stigma of being an alcoholic as well. And recovery must be celebrated because as in the case of any addiction, it takes tremendous willpower to kick the habit. So deploying a few cops outside TASMAC outlets is a short-term solution. But in the long run, if people are to value their health over instant gratification, better awareness and more sustainable recovery programmes are needed.

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