The New Year Killer: a Tsunami of booze

A deadly New Year epidemic
Most people look forward to the new year with renewed hopes, promises and happiness. However, every year, thousands will start the year with a funeral. During the new year holidays, nearly 400 Thais died and more than 2000 injured in road accidents. That’s like entire villages wiped out in days. If this had been a biological disease, people would be all up in arms to get rid of it, at all costs. Just look at the bird flu panic.

However, when the culprit is a social disease that also happens to bring about billions of baht into the Thai economy, then the authorities’ response to the mass deaths is symbolic at best.

How long has alcohol been plaguing Thai society? alcohol-death piechart Since the early ages, countless people fell victim to it. Everyone already knows well ahead that there will be carnage on the roads; everyone knows when it will happen, and why. And yet, year by year, authorities only feed us some feeble response. This year, it was the following: “the government hopes to limit the number of deaths from road accidents during the corresponding period this year to 456.” (IHT Thai Day).

Excuse me? So, if less than five hundred people die, than they declare success? What kind of success is that? For every person who died, there is a grieving family, dozens of ruined lives for each. I’d like to see a government figure visit such a funeral and boast about their ‘success’.

It’s about time the Thai government stop acting as if death by drunkards is an unpreventable disaster like the tsunami; something that can be only anticipated, but not eradicated. This is not so. Unlike a natural disaster, alcohol deaths are completely preventable. A total ban on alcohol production, sale and consumption, combined with severe punishment of the lawbreakers is the only sure-fire way that could cure this persistent plague of Thai society.

Just think about it. The only beneficial use of alcohol is in science – and that alcohol is denatured (made unfit for human consumption). The rest has no useful purpose whatsoever, it’s just a burden on society. Getting rid of it would help Thai society more than some feeble aims and promises every time the carnage comes around.

Wasn’t me!
So, whose hands are stained by the victims’ blood? Stupid idiots who recklessly go ahead and get drunk, despite knowing what happens every year? The system that barely lifts a finger to curb and contain this social disease? Or alcohol producers themselves who also know exactly that their product kills hundreds every year, and yet promote it wherever they can?

A tsunami of booze
But of course they do, because during the rest of the year, they sold “only” 1,972.52 million liters of alcohol, the poor fellas! That volume alone would be enough to cause a tremendous tsunami of booze, but wait! You see, in December they can sell some additional 64.4 million liters of liquor and 166.2 million liters of beer. This extra income is clearly worth hundreds of deaths and thousands of injuries, right?

Thailand is among the top five nations when it comes to alcohol consumption. It’s long overdue to get off that list.

(Fact and pic source: IHT Thai Day)

13 responses to “The New Year Killer: a Tsunami of booze

  1. When they introduced alcohol random breath testing on car drivers in the early 80″s in Australia, and increased penalties for drink driving to suspending your divers licenses for periods like 5 years, the road death toll dropped dramatically.

  2. I how can a government influence the drinking habits of its citizens? When the US tried this in the 1920s (prohibition), it didnt work.

  3. that’s what I was about to say. prohibition wouldn’t work. no way. it would lead to more illegal activities. just think of the ban on gambling.
    the solution could be zero tolerance of the drink-and-drive attitude. get all those puppets of policemen out on the roads, take away driving licence and take off registration plate for first offence, send to jail if they are caught driving with such a vehicle, press charges if someone is hurt. it could even be a huge source of income for the state budget if it was done systematically and without corruption….

  4. Hi Siamjai,

    I have to say that I disagree completely with the gist of what you’re saying.

    You don’t like to drink – that is obvious, however others do and they have every right to enjoy that freedom.

    They enjoy it, whether it is getting together and having a blast with family on holidays, or capping a hard day or week of work by letting off some steam with friends. This is especially so in Thailand. That’s the benefit of alcohol.

    I would also venture to say that if the government went along with your suggestion and banned alcohol, that the production of low-grade bootleg booze would skyrocket.

    It’s unfortunate that road accidents happen and you’re right that is a very sad thing, but I would go along with PaulAu’s suggestion far sooner than I would an outright booze ban.

    You just can’t play Daddy protector to an entire country, the idea just does not jive with life in a democratic country.

    That’s my two cents anyway, look forward to hearing what you and others here have to say about this topic.

    BKK

  5. Ian - London

    Hi Siamjai,

    You have some compelling responses on your site and I agree with them.

    Prohibition would drive this underground and illegal liquor stills would be a legitimate concern and likely cause of death by poisoning.

    Enforcement of drink/driving laws and punishment is the right direction but
    appropriate levels of punishment would be far from easy.

    Banning all sales of alcohol is not the answer as such extreme measures rarely work. Are you right to demand more from the Government ? Yes. Is the aim to reduce road deaths laudible ? Absolutely.

    However punishing the law abiding for the crimes of the socially irresponsible is not the answer.

    Thanks

    Ian

  6. Thanks for the comments, everyone. πŸ™‚ I’m delighted to see that everyone understood the points I made, and not read any more into it like it so often happens with controversial topics.

    I don’t easily call for a complete ban on anything, as I realize the dangers of such measures. I have already considered the points you guys make here, and some others too.

    Believe me, instead of asking Big Brother’s intervention, I’d rather see the self-imposed control that is expected from mature people, to take care of this social problem. Year passes after year, and that option just doesn’t seem to materialize.

    I can’t agree with Inkslinger’s explanation on alcohol’s benefits. “Having a blast” and “letting off some steam” – when I put these on one end of the scale, I can’t see how they could outweigh the enormous social and economic costs that alcohol is imposing on Thai society. Other, already banned drugs like weed and cocaine could be said to have the same ‘benefits’, and yet that reason wasn’t compelling enough for Thailand’s policymakers.

    Furthermore, what really questions the proposed benefit is the fact that everyone can have quality time with friends and family without these substances. (“Sanuk dai mai mee alcohol” was the catchphrase during these days). This leaves alcohol & co. without any real benefit, but with plenty of socioeconomic burden, warranting their complete removal from society.

    Under socioeconomic burden, I mean not only the deaths caused by alcohol/drugs, but also the disintegration of families due to these substances, as well as the imposed financial burden on families that are forced to fund one’s addiction to these substances. And then I didn’t even mention the cost of handling all alcohol/drug-related crimes, diseases, illnesses, for all of which taxpayers have to foot the bills, of course. If you put all these into the other end of the scale, merely having a great time just doesn’t cut it as a plausible explanation for the continuing presence of booze.

    A frequent argument of alcohol-ban opponents is that it wouldn’t work anyway. Füles and Diego here mentioned the Prohibition, and that it didn’t work. True. Ever since that failure, countless theories have been proposed why it didn’t work. Of these theories, I found one particularly convincing: authorities simply didn’t went to enough lenght to enforce the ban and punishment wasn’t severe enough to deter lawbreakers. It is my belief that addressing these issues could make a future Prohibition more effective. (Füles, we think along the same lines, I just took it one step further; catcing the problem at the distribution source, not only at the end users πŸ˜‰ ).

    Another favorite argument is that it’s one’s personal right to drink alcohol, and governments cannot interfere with this personal freedom. I still fail to grasp the essence of this point, since there are abundant examples of governments curtaining individual freedom to protect the freedom of the people. Thailand’s drug laws are a perfect example. (This is a good place to define ‘law abiding’, as raised by lan here. Laws change. To remain law-abiding, one has to adapt to these changes.)

    Speaking of drugs, what better way to close this reply than including His Majesty’s views? When Thaksin was boasting the success of his anti-drug campaign, HM the King reminded him that reduction is not success. Making Thailand a drug-free country is.

  7. In India there is one state where liquor is prohibited. And its the only state where you can get liquor delivered home free and whatever choice.. at any time. If corruption exists and if relative poverty exists (poverty is ‘corruption’ in a way… it should not happen) prohibition cannot take place. However, the day corruption stops and that means people have found the energy and maturity to do the things the ‘right way’, I think the exploitation of alcohol to dangerous limits would stop too.

    Alchohol in my mind cannot reach the level of drugs unless a certain threshold of society agrees to say its as bad. That seems hard to me, since a large amount of people drink without raising problems. So, without society acceptance it will always leak out the locked barrels – somehow…

    So, I think…

  8. You are right, Ian, I still have the same focus in mind – because the contrasting reasons are not convincing. πŸ™‚

    The main reason of my objection is that alcohol has no practical use. The examples you listed are fundamentally different than alcohol. Cars and aircraft have objectively assessable benefits, while the ‘benefit’ of alcohol is completely subjective.

    The only exception is the above-mentioned denatured alcohol, which decontaminates biohazard cabinets and the surface of biosafety hoods – this benefit is what I call objective. That booze gives some people good times – that’s hardly objective.

    Honestly, what would we loose if alcohol all of a sudden disappeared from Earth? People who can’t have a good time without the flask need some serious help.

    You wrote that a just society should allow such pleasures in moderation. I’d absolutely agree with that, assuming that the overwhelming majority of people are responsible enough to handle the substance appropriately. If that were the case, drunkards would be a rare sight, drunken accidents would be virtually unheard of, alcoholism would be on the verge of disappearance.

    We can all agree that this time hasn’t come yet. There are too many immature people who let booze control them, rather than the other way around. As long as this condition exist, I view a complete ban of alcohol as the only viable alternative.

    when people have found the energy and maturity to do the things the ‘right way’, I think the exploitation of alcohol to dangerous limits would stop too.

    Yes, Trangam… πŸ™‚ And when that time comes, I’ll be content with “allowing such pleasures in moderation”, like Ian said. Until then, it’s like giving guns to toddlers. Some will pull the trigger, some won’t. Unfortunately, many folks won’t contemplate the danger until themselves or their loved ones are in the crosshairs, and by that time it’s usually too late. πŸ™

    Your last paragraph I find interesting. I’m not sure if I got it right; do you say that your definition of what’s good and bad depends on what the majority of society thinks of the issue? Like, if most people equate alcohol with other drugs, you’ll agree, but if it’s only a minority view, you’ll disagree? I hope not; I thought you to be an explorer, not a follower…

  9. Ian - London

    Dear Siam,

    With respect you still seem to be focusing on the fact that because of the abuse of a minority , the majority should be punished.

    What you suggest is throwing away the baby with the bath water. Alcohol does have many benefits – one of which – regardless of your own absence of fondness for the stuff – is that millions find that in moderation it generally makes the world a better place.

    You cannot ban morphine or penicillin because some abuse it ; you cannot ban cars because some choose to drive recklessly ; you cannot ban aircraft because some choose to use them as weapons of terror.

    A just society allows such pleasures in moderation – let the law punish those that drive drunk ; let the law imprison repeat offenders and if I am inconsiderate enough to be a nuisance if I drink too much and become disorderly then fine me appropriately.

    Banning alcohol , like banning abortions or prostitution just forces the practice underground , into the arms of organised crime and into zero regulation and zero control.

    Make the laws just ; apply them with equanamity and let those who abuse the law pay appropriately.

    It is interesting to note that 75 years after US prohibition , organised crime still has a strangle hold on all liquor distribution in the United States.

    Regards

  10. LoL! You have got me to keep my rep of an ‘explorer’. Am I?

    What I said is not really what I see personally, but how I think things happen or may happen. If sufficient people believe drinking is OK, this will allow tacit corruption even if prohibition exists.

    I mean, if it comes to drugs, there are very few who will agree its good… even those who may have it… at least not for their children. But with alcohol, many would allow their children also have it without thinking much… unless they are plagued with issues around alchoholism?

  11. Thanks BKK… I’ll return the cheers – perhaps with some cooled naam falang. πŸ˜‰

    Joke aside, I think there is a misunderstanding. In an earlier reply of mine, I reasoned for the alcohol ban with an analogy of a scale: on one hand, we have lack of objective benefits, on the other hand, we have the tremendous social burden that it weighs on us. Thus the scale is tipped unfavorably with regard to alcohol’s place in a responsible society.

    While I really enjoyed your funny analogies, they don’t create such imbalance in the scale. Their social burden is not even comparable to that of alcohol. True, there are many things with subjective benefits and slight detriments – but that’s about it. A Big Mac or somtam overdose is an unlikely cause of a deadly accident, for instance… πŸ˜‰

    Finally, all of the stuff you mentioned are detrimental to the consumer’s health only – something that couldn’t be said of alcohol.

    More appropriate examples could have been things like tobacco products, which, as you might have guessed, I also vehemently oppose.

    Trangam, thank you for clarifying that point. πŸ™‚ The way you explained, I agree with it. It’s the willingness of the masses that prevents alcohol from going the way of other drugs. This willingness – where is it coming from? Lack of proper knowledge about the stuff? Selfish chase after shallow pleasures? Whatever it is, the powers that be intend to keep the masses in status quo, for their vested monetary interest in booze sales.

    On a side note: the Buddhist precepts don’t leave space for ‘social drinking’ and similar nonsense. They simply state: don’t do it. And in Thailand, who knows better than Buddha? πŸ™‚

  12. Hi again Siamjai,

    Still disagree with your points.

    If the governnment cut out everything that served no “objective benefit” there would be a major kick to Thailand’s “sanuk” factor – McDonald’s burgers would become contraband items batted with billyclubs out of the hands of young and old because of their ill health effects, as would Thai favourites like somtam and others shown in studies to have unpleasant health effects over the long term and be of no social use other than being regarded by this mysterious “aroi maak”, which is hardly objective.

    And not to stretch this obvious stretch too far but we could then outlaw fried banana sellers, pancake mongers, and also dancing, short skirts and red cars (shown statistically to get in more bangups than their less aggressively coloured counterparts).

    I am for less government regulations, not more – picture a world of everybody in jumpsuits, driving government issued cars and eating a government-prescribed diet of nutritionally sound and socially responsible food.

    Okay, point stretched far enough.

    Anyway, I know that your original point comes from a concern over the ill effects of drinking, but these are just a part of life ( a sad one granted in cases that involve deaths) and one that, especially as expats living here in Thailand, we have to get used to and accept.

    Interesting discussion and tonight, possibly tomorrow night, Siamjai, as I finish my shift at work and sit down on my balcony with a nice cool glass of beer, I will raise a glass to you!

    Cheers,
    BKK

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