Alcohol Policy in Turkey: The Limitations of Existing Paradigms and the Imperative of Informationalism

Screen Shot 2013-05-25 at 15.54.46Having amassed and pored through a fair bit of research on this very subject in the last few months, it was with some interest that we at Mediolana have been following recent legislative developments in Turkey on the issue of alcohol policy. Following the example of countries such as Sweden, Turkey is looking to regulate various aspects pertaining to the alcohol industry, and a bill was passed by the Turkish parliament earlier this week to this effect. The proposed law – it still has to be ratified by the Turkish President, Abdullah Gül, before it becomes official – contains a mixture of provisions; some of them are world-class, others anything but. However, the abject quality of both the debate surrounding the draft bill and the initial versions of the law evince nothing more than the limitations of at least three longstanding paradigms – with implications that reach far beyond the shores of the Turkish Republic:

1. Existing Policy. On one of his rare holidays, in the summer of 2012 our CSO and Creative Director came across a can of Efes Pilsen on a Cypriot beach. It had all the health information of a bottle of mineral water; unlike containers of alcohol even in a largely-unregulated country such as the UK, there were no warnings about the suitability of the drink for groups such as pregnant women, no unit information, and no medical officer’s warning. Given that at present rates of c.2.25-2.5m global deaths per annum, alcohol will kill up to 250,000,000 this century (World Health Organisation, 2011), and that ethanol is a class 1 carcinogen or cancer-producer, this is exactly the kind of situation that the new legislation should be aiming to remedy.

2. Authoritarian Solutions. Most of the provisions in the final version of the bill voted on by the Turkish parliament are well within the norms of best-practice international legislative standards. But the initial drafts posited by the governing Justice and Development Party (‘AKP’) were riddled with overbearing and unrealistic demands, such as the obfuscation of the consumption of alcohol in open-air eateries. Most disappointingly, the emphasis was on negative restrictions rather than the positive provision of information. Even in model jurisdictions, the ignorance and lack of imagination of alcohol regulators (let alone the general population) on the effects of alcohol consumption is arguably the core problem in this context. The knowledge that even moderate alcohol consumption engenders conditions as diverse as breast cancer and reduced orgasmic capacity and intensity is a much more powerful deterrent to drinking alcohol than whether a bar is placed 99 or 101 metres from an educational establishment.

3. Cultural Wars. Turkey’s main opposition party – the Republican People’s Party (‘CHP’) – yet again demonstrated the limitations of an approach based almost entirely on adversarial politics, in this case via ‘exposing’ another political party’s ‘secret agenda’. Whilst happy to water down the AKP’s proposals, they proffered no model of their own, let alone a recognition that individual and corporate liberties at some point do intersect and conflict with the public interest. Their lack of knowledge as to just how seriously many Western jurisdictions treat this issue ended up undermining their credibility. As our CSO recalls from his early career as a football journalist, not even the hosting of the 1998 FIFA World Cup made France change their strict laws regarding alcohol and sports sponsorship: official FIFA sponsor Budweiser was barred from the tournament, their advertising space instead being allocated to Tokyo-headquartered electronics company Casio.

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