Repeal of National Prohibition
by David J. Hanson, Ph.D.
National Prohibition in the US was repealed in 1933, but the temperance mentality is alive and well.
Because Constitutionally mandated Prohibition is widely recognized as having been a disastrous failure and currently lacks political support, modern prohibitionists are using a different approach to achieving their goal. 1
Their tactic is to establish cultural rather than strictly legal prohibition by making alcohol beverages less socially acceptable and marginalizing those who drink, no matter how moderately. Like the hatchet-wielding Carrie Nation and other prohibitionists who preceded them, modern prohibitionists (or neo-prohibitionists) don’t distinguish between the use and the abuse of alcohol.
The zealots who propagandized for the disastrous National Prohibition (1920-1933) acted in a time when there was little scientific knowledge about the effects of alcohol and they had strange ideas. Consider these assertions:
- Alcohol is the dirtiest drug we have. It permeates and damages all tissue. No other drug can cause the same degree of harm that it does.
- Alcohol is harmful to the body.
- Alcohol is a poison and drinking it might lead to death.
- Alcohol is toxic (no level of consumption indicated).
- The effects of alcohol on men (no level of consumption indicated) are that hormone levels change, causing lower sex drive and enlarged breasts.
- Alcohol is a gateway drug leading people into illicit drug use.
- Alcohol (no level of consumption indicated) can cause deterioration of the heart muscle.
Astonishingly, all these statements, which are very misleading at best, were not made by prohibitionists of old but by officials representing governmental agencies of today. Significantly, the comments are not based on scientific evidence but instead seem to reflect a neo-prohibitionist effort to stigmatize alcohol.
Because of the clear failure of prohibition, today's neo-prohibitionists
and other reduction-of-consumption advocates now typically call
for a variety of laws and other measures to reduce rather than completely
prohibit consumption. They tend to believe
- The substance of alcohol is, in and of itself, the cause of all drinking problems.
- The availability of alcohol determines the extent to which it will be consumed; availability causes people to drink more.
- The quantity of alcohol consumed (rather than the speed with which it is consumed, the purpose for which it is consumed, the social environment in which it is consumed, etc.) determines the extent of drinking problems.
- Educational efforts should stress the problems that alcohol consumption can cause and should promote abstinence.
These beliefs lead neo-prohibitionists (often called reduction-of-consumptionists, neo-drys, or neo-Victorians) to call for such measures as:
- Increasing taxes on alcohol beverages
- Limiting or reducing the number of sales outlets
- Limiting the alcohol content of drinks
- Prohibiting or limiting advertising
- Requiring warning messages with all advertisements
- Expanding the warning labels on all alcohol beverage containers
- Expanding the display of warning signs in establishments that sell or serve alcohol beverages
- Limiting the days or hours during which alcohol beverages can be sold
- Increasing server liability for subsequent problems associated with consumption
- Limiting the sale of alcohol beverages to people of specific ages
- Decreasing the legal blood alcohol content level for driving vehicles
- Eliminating the tax deductibility of alcohol beverages as a business expense.
Unfortunately for the neo-prohibitionists, the scientific evidence doesn’t provide good support for their recommendations. For more, visit Law and Policy.
To learn more about some of the major neo-prohibitionist groups and individuals, visit:
- The Center for science in the Public Interest
- The Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse
- The Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth
- The Center for Substance Abuse Prevention
- The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation
- Mothers Against Drunk Driving
- Henry Wechsler
filed under: [pending]