I had Christmas dinner with my brother and his family today, and came away laden with tobacco and whisky. In my turn I left several bottles of champagne behind.
So it was of interest to note that a few days ago Chris Snowdon re-published a speech that had been made on 22 December 1914, not long before the introduction of Prohibition in the USA. Some excerpts (excluding Chris Snowdon’s comments):
Alcohol has the property of chloroform and ether of penetrating actually into the nerve fibers themselves, putting the tissues under an anesthetic which prevents pain at first, but when the anesthetic effect is over discomfort follows throughout the tissues of the whole body, particularly the nervous system, which causes a craving for relief by recourse to the very substance that produced the disturbance. This craving grows directly with the amount and regularity of the drinking.
The poisoning attack of alcohol is specially severe in the cortex cerebrum — the top part of the brain — where resides the center of inhibition, or of will power, causing partial paralysis, which liberates lower activities otherwise held in control, causing a man to be more of a brute, but to imagine that he has been stimulated, when he is really partially paralyzed. This center of inhibition is the seat of the will power, which of necessity declines a little in strength every time partial paralysis takes place.
Thus a man is little less of a man after each drink he takes. In this way continued drinking causes a progressive weakening of the will and a progressive growing of the craving, so that after a time, if persisted in, there must come a point where the will power cannot control the craving and the victim is in the grip of the habit.
When the drinking begins young the power of the habit becomes overwhelming, and the victim might as well have shackles. It is estimated that there are 5,000,000 heavy drinkers and drunkards in America, and these men might as well have a ball and chain on their ankles, for they are more abject slaves than those black men who were driven by slave drivers.
It is vain for us to think that slavery has been abolished. There are nearly twice as many slaves, largely white men, today than there were black men slaves in America at any one time
These victims are driven imperatively to procure their liquor, no matter at what cost . A few thousand brewers and distillers making up the organizations composing the great liquor trust, have a monopoly of the supply, and they therefore own these 5,000,000 slaves and through them they are able to collect $2,500,000,000 cash from the American people every year.
I suppose what struck me most forcibly about this passage was the idea of the drinker as slave to his habit. Because precisely this is now how smokers are described: as “addicts.”
The second thing I noticed was that there was back then an evil Big Alcohol that had enslaved millions of US citizens, just like “the industry” that now enslaves us poor smokers.
And the third thing I noticed was the invocation of “science”:
These convictions are permanent, because they are founded on questions of fact and not of opinion. They revolve about the nature of alcohol, a chemical compound whose properties have been definitely ascertained at the hands of science. Whether members of this House are “wet” or “dry,” all should acquaint themselves with the recent findings of science as to what alcohol really is, and the effect it really has upon the human organisms, and through the human organisms the political and social organisms…
The substance about which this whole question revolves is a chemical compound of the group of the oxide derivatives of the hydrocarbons, its formula being C2H5(OH), 2 atoms of carbon, 6 of hydrogen, and 1 of oxygen. Among the other members of this group may be mentioned carbolic acid, chloral hydrate — popularly called chloral — morphine, and strychnine. Alcohol is produced by the process of fermentation, in which process ferment germs devour glucose in solution derived from grain, grapes, and other substances, and in their life processes they throw off waste products like other living organisms. One of the waste products is the gas that causes bubbling. The other waste product is the liquid alcohol. Alcohol is then the toxin, the loathsome excretion of a living organism. It comes under the general law governing toxins, namely, the toxin of one form of life is a poison to the form of life that produced it and a poison to every other form of life of a higher order.
Eight hundred German scientists, 116 of them professors in German universities, have made a unanimous report on the nature of beverage alcohol, recommending its complete elimination. A German staff physician of the German army has announced that “we should not discuss moderation with a man. The thing has long since been settled by science. The use of narcotic poisons is simply indecent and criminal.”
Furthermore, then as now, Europe had caught the prohibitionist bug as well.
Shortly after the promulgation of martial law the Russian government, in spite of the loss of hundreds of millions in revenue, issued a proclamation to compel prohibition of the national drink — vodka. This order has been made permanent and, broadly speaking, the Russian empire is to remain dry forever.
I wonder if that Russian prohibition had any influence upon the revolution that subsequently broke out in 1917? Perhaps it did, because prohibition was ended in 1925 not long after the death of Lenin, who – as well as being an ardent antismoker – was also an ardent prohibitionist.
“Whatever the peasant wants in the way of material things we will give him, as long as they do not imperil the health or morals of the nation,” Lenin famously declared late in life. “But if he asks for ikons or booze – these things we will not make for him. For that is definitely retreat; that is definitely degeneration that leads him backward. Concession of this sort we will not make; we shall rather sacrifice any temporary advantage that might be gained from such concessions.”
Nothing much has changed in 100 years. The same template is being applied now to tobacco as was applied then to alcohol. The name of one “toxin” has been scratched out, and replaced with another.
And of course “the gas that causes bubbling” during fermentation is another modern terror: carbon dioxide.
So I’m looking forward to opening my new bottle of Benromach – a Speyside single malt scotch whisky -. Or perhaps I should say that the progressive weakening of my will combined with a progressive growth of my craving for a dram will probably result in it being uncorked ere long.