Nick Smith on business

Nick Smith is an award-winning freelance writer

Nick Smith: Beware the Puritans at the gate

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Watch out: Once the killjoys have nailed all the smokers, drinkers will be next.

Writer Nick Smith believes alcohol is next on the list of banned substances. Photo / Thinkstock
Writer Nick Smith believes alcohol is next on the list of banned substances. Photo / Thinkstock

Let's start with a noun and its definition. Teetotalitarianism: the complete subservience of the individual to the oppressive ethos of Puritanism.

I coined the word in a fit of hyperbole in 1996 when writing about the iniquity of licensing trust control of Auckland suburbs. Many of us resented having to drive several kilometres just to get a drink on a Sunday.

That election year the people routed the wowsers of Mt Roskill and Mt Albert and, to celebrate, we drank rivers of the stuff and danced and sang very badly. Only sensibilities were injured.

Despite the survival of West Auckland's Portage Licensing Trust - a little like the last remaining communist state after the wall had fallen - it felt like VE Day in New York. There was kissing and one couple dressed up as a sailor and nurse and re-enacted the famous war's end photo.

We were drunken fools. We were also wrong: we hadn't won.

The pendulum has now swung so far back that it is once again risque to write about how much fun it is to get pissed, play loud music and sing the wrong lyrics ("Cheap wine and a three-legged goat," from memory).

Back in the 1990s, you could hardly turn a newspaper page without reading a column about an author's brush with prostitution or with Class A pharmaceuticals.

In the new millennium, advocates for alcohol are shot down in a fusillade of moral umbrage for telling people the truth about beer and wine.

I am not a big fan of the Business Roundtable and its executive director, Roger Kerr, but he is one of the few to put in a kind word for the social benefits of drinking. Kerr was on a hiding to nothing by weighing into the alcohol debate and it's good to see people of principle standing up for what's right.

Kerr's word certainly carries more weight in New Zealand than that of Charlie Sheen - hardly a poster boy for the liberal, dissolute lifestyle. But Sheen was mostly right. Sobriety is (mostly) boring and those madcap few hours on the booze are a lot of fun. It beggars belief that access to alcohol and its consumption is again being constrained in New Zealand. But in Auckland, what started out as a ban on public drinking in the CBD has now been extended to the suburbs.

I took a packed lunch and a bottle of Emerson's Old 95 to a nice patch of sun last week and was greeted by a sign announcing a liquor-free zone. I was in Kingsland, barely 2km from my home. The barbarians really are at the gate.

It's not just the drinkers. They're coming for the smokers, too. I watched a few episodes of 1980s British crime drama Cracker last month and revelled as its anti-hero, Fitz, a criminal psychologist, smoked in bars, taxis, lunchrooms, hospitals and the homes of the bereaved. Those were the days; I'd forgotten them.

But before they ban smoking in public places, they will get the drug addicts. Law Commission proposals effectively banning all party pills are likely to be adopted by the Government.

This is terrible news but I'll broad-brush the sound reasons for pessimism.

Drug bans don't work. Prohibition limits supply, pushing up the price and increasing crime rates as users resort to desperate measures to acquire cash to feed their habit.

Banning party pills will increase demand for proven dangerous drugs. When pill ingredient BZP was outlawed, sales of methamphetamine and ecstasy soared.

But mostly, drinkers need to stick up for the drug addicts because if the teetotalitarians nobble them, they'll have a free shot at the smokers.

Once the smokers are nailed, they'll come for us drinkers. Just the thought of it makes me thirsty.

- NZ Herald

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