PRAGUE — On Sept. 12, after 16 alcohol-related deaths, the Czech Republic banned street vendors from selling hard alcohol. The liquor responsible for these deaths was apparently tainted with industrial methanol, and the company labels on the tampered bottles appear to have been forged.
However, the number of victims kept climbing despite the ban. There is now a total of 27 deaths with many others hospitalized as well as many left blind. The ban has since been partially lifted.
The ban specifically prohibits the sale of all beverages with a 20 percent or higher alcohol content by street vendors and stall owners. Hypermarkets like Tesco have also been forced to suspend their sale of alcohol until further notice. Bars and restaurants are already feeling the negative effects of the ban, with sales noticeably dropping during the past week.
The prohibition is largely affecting the government as well with losses from alcohol taxes.
“I understand there was a difficult time finding where exactly the beginning of the problem happened, and that’s why they needed to do this, but from what I can [see] the problem didn’t seem to come from imported alcohols like tequila and these kinds of things,” said Jay DeYonker, a 24-year-old resident assistant for NYU Prague. “So I don’t fully understand why they banned everything.”
Even though hard alcohol has been suspended, in a city where beer prices are similar to water, alcoholic beverages are still readily available.
NYU students studying abroad in Prague, where the drinking age is 18, have mixed feelings about the ban on alcohol sales.
Stern junior Kenny Safar celebrated his birthday just days after the hard alcohol ban had taken effect. Because he does not drink alcohol, Safar was not affected by the ban, but his friends were frustrated by the limitations it placed on their celebration.
“We had to completely change our plans last minute and still can’t believe that the drinking capital of the world could have implemented a countrywide ban on alcohol,” Safar said.
NYU Prague director Jiří Pehe said that although the alcohol incidents occurred in other parts of Prague, students should not take risks. He also added that the ban on alcohol consumption in dorms should help.
“The prohibition did not affect beer and wine, which I presume those students who occasionally consume alcohol, drink more than hard liquor,” Pehe said. “Many of those who had consumed regularly hard liquor switched to wine and beer. I presume our students followed the same path.”
“It was a necessary measure even if it’s inconvenient,” said Stern sophomore Maximilian Friedman. “I just hope that they re-legalize some alcohol soon.”
Leah Gaffen, NYU Prague’s student affairs coordinator, said students are being more careful.
“Students have been drinking less and are more cautious about what they are drinking now,” Gaffen said. “There has probably been an increase in the amount of beer consumed.”
A version of this article appeared in the Wednesday, Oct. 3 print edition. Sami Wong is a foreign correspondent. Email him at [email protected].