Jón Gnarr's column: The charitable bootlegging of the state
Comedian, writer and former mayor of Reykjavík JÓN GNARR, writes a weekly column for the weekend issue of Fréttablaðið, Iceland's most read newspaper and we publish an English version here at Iceland Magazine.
The so-called alcohol bill is once more being debated. It’s about a Bill for an act to amend the law about the retail of alcohol and tobacco in Iceland. If I understand the bill correctly it will, if it becomes law, entail that ÁTVR (the Icelandic State Alcohol and Tobacco Monopoly), which thus far has had monopoly of selling alcohol, will lose the privilege, and people will be able to buy wine in the grocery stores. ÁTVR would then have to stop thinking about wine and focus more on cigarettes and tobacco. ÁTVR manufactures, for example, a repulsive horror called snuff. ÁTVR provides the people of Iceland with 30 tons of this stuff every year. But most people probably don’t sniff this into the nose, like they used to in the old days, because it is the custom, or filthy habit, of young men to roll it into toilet paper and put it under the lip.
This type of consumption has been fast growing and is now increasing by 20 to 30 percent per year. There is little supervision over this and no research on the harm and effects.
This is very controversial. Many people are afraid of these changes and think it is an ill-fated step, the consumption of alcohol would increase and, therefore, the harm that goes with it. They often quote research to support their reasoning. I think there are so many tourists coming to Iceland now, that these surveys have no significance anymore. Most people who come here are on vacation and it is a well-known fact that people generally drink more alcohol when they are on vacation than when they are not on vacation.
There is also much talk about responsibility. The ÁTVR way of selling alcohol is said to be responsible whereas the other approach is not. The employees at ÁTVR care about us and want to make sure that we don’t harm ourselves. ÁTVR makes commercials encouraging moderate and responsible drinking. These people do not want us to go on a bender. Many people fear that shop owners don’t have this warmth and concern.
Physicians maintain that drinking can be a disease. Alcoholism. It is a very interesting disease. For example, there are no medicines for it. Part of the traditional treatment is, therefore, cognitive therapy and preferably participation in an organization that could be considered as a kind of a denomination. The difference between a moderate and excessive consumption is also unclear. Certain arguments could be used to maintain that everyone who drinks alcohol at all is an alcoholic, just differently far gone.
The Bad Capitalists
Personally, I don’t care whether this bill becomes the law or not. It is a long time since ÁTVR stopped irritating me. Because this establishment has ceased the anti-service it offered before, and now even provides chilled wines and friendly service. The only thing lacking is that they are not open on Sundays. This is corny and based on the same ideology as the State TV did when there was no television on Thursdays. I also think that the guys in Melabúðin grocery store or the people in Bónus supermarket can be trusted to sell us alcohol.
All talk about “limited access” to alcohol and “conservatism” is rather insubstantial in my opinion. Access to alcohol in Iceland is not limited or restricted. You can buy alcohol on Sundays even though the state monopoly liquor stores are closed. It just costs more. This is in fact just discrimination.
Positive statements on posters have little or no effect on the development of diseases. If alcoholism is in fact a disease, then it does not have any impact on the patients whether their beer is cold or not, or whether they are exposed to positive statements.
Those who really have a drinking problem are not going on the wagon because they cannot get a cold beer. A poster that says: “Let’s Enjoy Wine in Moderation!” has no effect on a sick alcoholic, no more than “Let’s Be Positive!” has any effect on people who suffer from depression. This ideology is almost like quackery. If we are selling alcohol we are just doing it, and it is irrelevant how we do it. The idea behind the monopoly of ÁTVR is therefore based on an illusion and gives us false security. The malady is the alcohol and not the form of consumption.
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