Cheers to the power of boozy, smoky pleasure


If you’re having your first drink of the day or just lighting up your first cigarette, here’s cause for joy. Despite all the warnings about the dangers of drink and smoke, and those horribly senseless pictures displayed on cigarette packs today, just know that you are part of a political power in the country today.

We have it from the President himself, who knows the billions the State earns as tax from from cigarettes and alcohol. The President has said he would much rather place a total prohibition on all alcohol and tobacco in the country, but for the parties that would oppose such action and topple this government.

Now, isn’t that a lot to be pleased about?

It is unlikely that any political party would come out in support of drinkers and smokers. They would all be glad to sing the old songs about how bad these are for human health. No one questions the medical evidence about this. But, the reality is how much these two vices, as they are known, contribute to the national budget, helping keep the budget deficit under some control.

I know of doctors who tell their patients to stop or at least cut down on their alcohol intake. It has happened to me. In fact, there was a brief period when some doctors … in the never implemented "Mathata Thitha" time … threatened not to treat those admitted to hospital with injuries suffered after accidents when they were after alcohol. Some ministers at the time supported the idea.

My question to such good medical people was whether they would have got through school and medical college if their fathers had not contributed enough towards education through drinking or smoking or both. That leads most to dead silence.

The same goes for teachers. Those who have a great and no doubt genuine commitment, to teach all they can against drinking and smoking. They just forget the fact that most of them teach in government schools, which largely depend on the taxes from liquor and tobacco to pay the teachers. Would they dare give up, their salaries because most of it comes from booze and/ or smoke? Not likely.

Those in the creative world cannot be easily moved away from a good drink, because they believe, and most probably are correct in the thought that a drink helps in imaginative thinking. As Samuel Butler, the celebrated English author of the Victorian-era said: "The human intellect owes its superiority over that of the lower animals in great measure to the stimulus which alcohol has given imagination."

We’ve had this attack on drinking alcohol go on from the time of the prohibition days, when it began as part of the movement against imperialism and colonial rule. Once independence was achieved the call for prohibition began to fade away, and politics certainly began to benefit from the business of alcohol and tobacco.

The campaign for the January 8 Presidential poll saw a great fuss being made about ethanol importers who were making huge illegal profits, and were involved in large scale smuggling. The Silent Revolution came and was followed by the General Election on August 17. And what do we see today? Many of those who were linked with the ethanol and other drug rackets well ensconced in power, and within the Cabinet of Yahapalanaya or Good Governance, too.

Whatever politicians may say at times of elections, it is the money that matters, and in many different ways. When one is in government it is seen in taxes – or revenue for governance whether good of bad. If one is not in government, it means huge contributions for the politics of the Opposition. The people drink and smoke and the politicians thrive from the money that pours in through liquor and tobacco.

The ban on advertising of liquor and tobacco products, and any sponsorship of sporting and other important events by these businesses, has had little effect in bringing down the public draw towards liquor and smoke. They have other means of achieving the same ends.

We now see that the regular increase in taxes on liquor and cigarettes has in fact been done, not to bring down their use, but to raise revenue, for the many governments, whether green or blue, that have seen this as a very convenient pre-budget trick to raise more taxes. If the medical and other valued opinions about the dangers of these products to the health of the people are to be seriously acted upon, it seems time to take it away from political campaigning and look at other directions of public awareness and education.

Maybe it is time to have a good drink and think about real solutions to what are considered dangerous to human health. It is possible that a drink or two may be useful in such thinking, because as Francois Rabelias, the French Resistance writer, Renaissance humanist, monk, and Greek scholar has said: "When I drink, I think; and when I think, I drink."

Many are the efforts to tell us that alcohol is the worst enemy of the people. During the time of the prohibition campaign, there was a prominence of religious preachers on the platforms that called for the closure of taverns, which did have some success in the South. But, religion has certainly not been able to curb the demand for booze and smoke, and its increasing contribution to the national budget. I recall here the words of Frank Sinatra that: "Alcohol may be man’s worst enemy, but the Bible says love your enemy".

So I raise my glass for my next drink, with the pleasure of knowing that we drinkers, and smokers too across the bar, are people who can change governments in this country. What a power for booze and smoke. Cheers again!

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