Negative Effects of the proposed Alcohol Prohibition Bill on Safety and Public Health in Indonesia: Studies in Six Cities

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Executive Summary and Policy Recommendation
Alcohol consumption is being regarded as an activity that poses health risks. Intoxication as
the direct, observable result of drinking is perceived as undesirable and the source of many
ills in society. Legislators at the House of Representatives currently debate a bill that seeks to
eliminate the production, distribution and consumption of alcoholic beverages in most parts of
Indonesia.

While the intentions might be laudable, a prohibition actually has adverse effects on public
health. Our research in six Indonesian cities confirmed that, instead of curbing the desire for
intoxication, prohibition facilitates the growth of black markets, a case especially evident in areas
with partial prohibition that limits the distribution of alcohol to particular zones. In our survey,
in both total and partial prohibition areas, consumers perceived an increase of undocumented
alcohol stores by more than 75% since the year 2010, when legal liquor was still widely available
at affordable prices.

The lack of access to documented alcoholic beverages reinforces a general preference of
Indonesian consumers for stronger spirits and pushes them to even consume extremely dangerous
concoctions, so-called oplosan. Oplosan is widely available and regarded by consumers as a fast
and potent way to get intoxicated. Sellers appreciate that it is distributed in smaller portions than
beer or wine and easier to hide from law enforcement agencies. The Indonesian case proves the
“Iron Law of Prohibition” inadvertently leads to heavy and harmful drinking.

The Indonesian government tried to curb the consumption of alcohol by imposing high excise
taxes, while local governments created prohibition zones around mosques, hospitals, schools,
public squares etc. Both policies have had undesirable results. Imposing high taxes in 2010
made recorded alcohol so expensive that consumers turned to unrecorded alcohol. The reported
death toll from bootleg liquor increased from 149 deaths in 2008-2012 to 487 deaths in 2013-
2016. Meanwhile, local zoning policies are often so expansive that they rule out all possible sales
locations and have all the adverse effects of a general prohibition.

This study recommends that taxes and tariffs should be lowered so that documented and
safer alcoholic beverages become affordable so that consumers can avoid purchasing dangerous
bootleg alcohol. In order to prevent under-age drinking, it should be compulsory for purchasers
of alcoholic beverages to prove their age. There should also be strict licensing requirements for
authorised sellers of alcoholic beverages. Finally, public education programs need to create
an awareness and understanding of the dangers of excessive alcohol consumption.