Repeal of National Prohibition

National Prohibition in the US was repealed in 1933, but the temperance mentality is alive and well.

Because Constitutionally mandated Prohibition is widely recognized as having been a disastrous failure and currently lacks political support, modern prohibitionists are using a different approach to achieving their goal. 1

Their tactic is to establish cultural rather than strictly legal prohibition by making alcohol beverages less socially acceptable and marginalizing those who drink, no matter how moderately. Like the hatchet-wielding Carrie Nation and other prohibitionists who preceded them, modern prohibitionists (or neo-prohibitionists) don’t distinguish between the use and the abuse of alcohol.

The zealots who propagandized for the disastrous National Prohibition (1920-1933) acted in a time when there was little scientific knowledge about the effects of alcohol and they had strange ideas. Consider these assertions:

  • Alcohol is the dirtiest drug we have. It permeates and damages all tissue. No other drug can cause the same degree of harm that it does.
  • Alcohol is harmful to the body.
  • Alcohol is a poison and drinking it might lead to death.
  • Alcohol is toxic (no level of consumption indicated).
  • The effects of alcohol on men (no level of consumption indicated) are that hormone levels change, causing lower sex drive and enlarged breasts.
  • Alcohol is a gateway drug leading people into illicit drug use.
  • Alcohol (no level of consumption indicated) can cause deterioration of the heart muscle.

Astonishingly, all these statements, which are very misleading at best, were not made by prohibitionists of old but by officials representing governmental agencies of today. Significantly, the comments are not based on scientific evidence but instead seem to reflect a neo-prohibitionist effort to stigmatize alcohol.

Because of the clear failure of prohibition, today's neo-prohibitionists and other reduction-of-consumption advocates now typically call for a variety of laws and other measures to reduce rather than completely prohibit consumption. They tend to believe

  • The substance of alcohol is, in and of itself, the cause of all drinking problems.
  • The availability of alcohol determines the extent to which it will be consumed; availability causes people to drink more.
  • The quantity of alcohol consumed (rather than the speed with which it is consumed, the purpose for which it is consumed, the social environment in which it is consumed, etc.) determines the extent of drinking problems.
  • Educational efforts should stress the problems that alcohol consumption can cause and should promote abstinence.

These beliefs lead neo-prohibitionists (often called reduction-of-consumptionists, neo-drys, or neo-Victorians) to call for such measures as:

  • Increasing taxes on alcohol beverages
  • Limiting or reducing the number of sales outlets
  • Limiting the alcohol content of drinks
  • Prohibiting or limiting advertising
  • Requiring warning messages with all advertisements
  • Expanding the warning labels on all alcohol beverage containers
  • Expanding the display of warning signs in establishments that sell or serve alcohol beverages
  • Limiting the days or hours during which alcohol beverages can be sold
  • Increasing server liability for subsequent problems associated with consumption
  • Limiting the sale of alcohol beverages to people of specific ages
  • Decreasing the legal blood alcohol content level for driving vehicles
  • Eliminating the tax deductibility of alcohol beverages as a business expense.

Unfortunately for the neo-prohibitionists, the scientific evidence doesn’t provide good support for their recommendations. For more, visit Law and Policy.

To learn more about some of the major neo-prohibitionist groups and individuals, visit:



  • 1. Actually, a few people actually promote the idea that Prohibition was a success. For example, Joe Califano, head of the anti-alcohol National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, asserts that
  • alcohol consumption dropped from 1.96 gallons
    per person in 1919 to 0.97 gallons per person in 1934, the first full year
    after Prohibition ended. Death rates from cirrhosis among men came down
    from 29.5 per 100,000 in 1911 to 10.7 per 100,000 in 1929. During
    Prohibition, admission to mental health institutions for alcohol psychosis
    dropped 60 percent; arrests for drunk and disorderly conduct went down 50
    percent; welfare agencies reported significant declines in cases due to
    alcohol-related family problems, and the death rate from impure alcohol
    did not rise. Nor did Prohibition generate a crime wave. Homicide
    increased at a higher rate between 1900 and 1910 than during Prohibition,
    and organized crime was well established in the cities before 1920.
    (Califano, Joseph. Fictions and facts about drug legalization.
    America, 1996 (March 16), 174(9), 7-10)
  • Similarly, Mark Moore wrote an editorial in the New York Times titled “Actually, Prohibition was a Success.” Califano and Moore are also joined by a few religious writers who make the same claim. Some of the latter also argue that Jesus did not drink wine but grape juice instead.


  • Amenda, P. J. Temperance for a New Age: The Crusade Against Drunk Driving, 1980-1997. (Fresno, CA: California State University, M.A. thesis, 1998).
  • American Heart Association. In Response to the Center for Science in the Public Interest's Report on Trans Fatty Acids. (Available at The American Heart Association takes issue with some of the unscientific assertions of the Center for Science in the Public Interest.
  • Bennett, J. and DiLorenzo, T. Food and Drink Police: Center for Science in the Public Interest Wants Government to Control Our Eating Habits. Washington, DC: Capital Research Center, 1998. (Available at
  • Bonvie, L., and Bonvie, B. Strong-arming an innocent herb. Providence Journal, May 10, 2000. (Available at Demonstrates the Center for Science in the Public Interest's lack of even-handedness in selecting the targets it selects to attack. Ironically, the Center for Science in the Public Interest makes a big issue of integrity....not its own but the alleged lack of integrity of those with whom it disagrees.
  • Bovard, J. Booze Busting: the New Prohibition. The Future of Freedom Foundation, December, 1998. (Available at
  • Brignell, J. Sorry, Wrong Number!: The Abuse of Measurement. London, England: Brignell Associates, 2000.
  • Candy Lightner: a grieving mother helped America get MADD. People Weekly, 1999 (March 15), 110.
  • Carnell, B. Should Christina Hoff Sommers "Shut the F_ _ _ _ Up"?,
  • Center for Alcohol Marketing and Youth. Radio Daze: Alcohol Ads Tune In Underage Youth. Washington, DC: Center for Alcohol Marketing and Youth, 2003.
  • Center for Alcohol Marketing and Youth. Television: Alcohol's Vast Adland. Washington, DC: Center for Alcohol Marketing and Youth, 2002.
  • Center for Alcohol Marketing and Youth. Out of Control: Alcohol Advertising Taking Aim at America's Youth. Washington, DC: Center for Alcohol Marketing and Youth, 2002.
  • Center for Consumer Freedom. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's Neo-Prohibitionist Agenda, April, 2003 (
  • Cuomo to Sign Bill Barring Califano. New York Times, 1987 (April 11), 136, p. 9(N), p. 29(L), col. 2.
  • Duplantier, F.R. A Bronx cheer for professional scolds: There's nothing scientific about the Center for Science in the Public Interest, nor does the Center have any interest in the interests of the public. America's Future, April 15, 1998. (Available at
  • Ending Taxpayer Subsidized Lobbying by Neo-Prohibitionists,
  • Fisher, J.C. Advertising, Alcohol Consumption and Abuse: A Worldwide Survey. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood, 1993.
  • Foster, R. G. Robert Wood Johnson: The Gentleman Rebel. State College, PA: Lillian Press, 1999. Apparently an abstainer who tried to impose his views on his employees, Robert Wood Johnson created one of the world's richest and most powerful foundations. As one observer noted, the "Robert Wood Johnson Foundation is not a respected non-profit; it is under the control of left wing extremists who fund programs that further their social causes." The foundation tries to impose its temperance views on the entire American society, not just a few thousand employees. Robert Wood Johnson would be pleased with his foundation's anti-alcohol funding.
  • Friedrich, O. Candy Lightner. Time, 1985, 125, 41.
  • Frantzich, S. E. Citizen Democracy: Political Activists in a Cynical Age. Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield, 1999. See section "From Grief to Action: Making One MADD -- Candy Lightner."
  • Fumento, M. Food fight. Forbes, November 11, 2002. (Available at Is Michael Jacobson of the Center for Science in the Public Interest dishonest or simply incompetent? Or could Mr. Jacobson simply be incredibly careless with research methods and data?
  • Hasse, W. K. Rhetorical Strategies: A Critical Analysis of Mothers Against Drunk Drivers. (Ohio University, M.A. thesis, 1983). Mothers Against Drunk Drivers was the original name of Mothers Against Drunk Driving.
  • How Effective Are MADD's Efforts? USA Today, 1992, 120, 4.
  • Huff, D. How to Lie with Statistics. New York: Norton, 1993.
  • Jacobsen, M., Hacker, G., and Atkins, R. The Booze Merchants: The Inebriating of America. Washington, DC: Center for Science in the Public Interest Books, 1983. This book is an excellent case study of deception. It also documents that decades ago CSPI was insisting that alcohol ads "target" young people. Although the federal government has found no evidence to support that claim, CSPI continues to make the assertion to this day. The temerance organization seems to follow the nazi belief that if a falsehood is repeated often enough, people will believe it. The Center for Science in the Public Interest has often been referred to as the "food police." It also appears to be the alcohol gestapo.
  • Kinkade, P. T. The Unintended Consequences of California's 1982 Drunk Driving Laws: The Costs of Being "MADD." (Irvine, CA: University of California, Ph.D. dissertation, 1990).
  • Kurtz, S. Abolish CSAP!,
  • Kurtz, S. Silencing Sommers,
  • Lightner, Candy. MADD. (Mothers Against Drunk Driving). Sound recording, 1986.
  • Lightner, Candy and Hathaway, N. Giving Sorrow Words. NY: Warner books, 1990.
  • Lopez, F. MADD agenda goes mad with neo-prohibitionism. The Atlanta Journal and Constitution, 3-25-02.
  • Milloy, S. College Drinking Study is Intoxicating Scam,,2933,50104,00.html
  • Milloy, S. J. Junk Science Judo: Self-Defense Against Health Scares and Scams. Washington, DC: Cato Institute, 2001.
  • Milloy, S. J. Science Without Sense: The Risky Business of Public Health Research. Washington, DC: Cato Institute, 1995.
  • Mindus, D. Behind the Neo-Prohibition Campaign: The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Washington, DC: The Center for Consumer Freedom, 2003 (
  • New York Seafood Council. Is Seafood the Leading Cause of Foodborne Illness Outbreaks? (available at Excellent example of apparently intentional deception by the Center for Science in the Public Interest that may have the unintended effect of harming public health.
  • One woman can make a difference (Candy Lightner and Mothers Against Drunk Driving or MADD) Vogue, 1986, 176, 170.
  • Original thinkers: These five helped reshape the way we see our world --and live and work in it. Life, 1989, 12(12), 167-171. (Includes Candy Lightner and her founding of MADD)
  • Pena, C.V. The Anti-Drunk Driving Campaign: A Covert War Against Drinking. Mr. Pena is former Executive Director of the Mothers Against Drunk Driving chapter of Northern Virginia.
  • Reinarman, C. The drug policy debate in Europe: The case of Califano vs. The Netherlands. International Journal of Drug Policy, 1997, 8(3). Available at Dr. Reinarman contends that Califano "propagandizes" and that his systematic distortions warrant careful analysis as a case study of how misinformation fuels inappropriate public policy. Therefore, he reveals some of the things that Califano neglects, misrepresents and gets wrong in a single publication.
  • Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Annual Report. Princeton, NJ: Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, 2003.
  • Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Combating Alcohol Abuse. Chapter in: Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. To Improve Health and Health Care. Vol. VI. Princeton, NJ: Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, 2003.
  • Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Advances Newsletter. (quarterly) Princeton, NJ: Robert Wood Johnson Foundation
  • Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Free to Grow: Head Start Partnerships for Substance-Free Communities. Princeton, NJ: Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, 1998.
  • Satel, S. the Sorry CSAP Flap: It's Worse Than It Looks,
  • Sellinger, M. Already the conscience of a nation, Candy Lightner prods Congress into action against drunk drivers. People Weekly, 1984, 22, 102+.
  • Social Issues Research Centre. Of Public Interest? (Available at The Center for Science in the Public Interest warns of the health dangers of C-reactive protein but conveniently chooses not to report that moderate drinkers have only half the levels of the dangerous substance found in alcohol abstainers. Presumably because of its anti-alcohol stance, CSPI somehow feels justified in withholding this important health information that might save people's lives. So much for the interest of the public!
  • United States Congress. House Committee on Interstate and Foreign Commerce. Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations. Contempt Proceedings against Secretary of HEW, Joseph A. Califano, Jr. Washington: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1979.
  • Wooster, M.M. Mothers Against Drunk Driving: Has its vision become blurred? Alternatives in Philanthropy, 2000 (February) (
  • Wechsler, Henry, et al. Alcohol use and problems at colleges banning alcohol: Results from a national survey. Journal of Studies on Alcohol, 2001, 62(2), 133. NOTE: The term binge is not used in this article because the most prestigious journal in the field of alcohol research, The Journal of Studies on Alcohol, only permits its use when referring to a true binge and never permits its deceptive misuse.
  • Wechsler, Henry, and Isaacs, N. "Binge" drinking at Massachusetts colleges: Prevalence, drinking style, time trends, and associated problems. JAMA: The Journal of the American Medical Association, 1992, 267(21), 2929-2931. NOTE: Placing the term binge in quotation marks reflects Henry Wechsler's recognition that he was using the term in a non-standard, idiosyncratic manner in this early publication.
  • Wechsler, Henry, and Kuo, M. College students define binge drinking and estimate its prevalence: Results of a national survey. Journal of American College Health, 2000, 49(2), 57. NOTE: In this article Henry Wechsler incorrectly claimed that most students underestimate the extent of heavy drinking, a fact which, if correct, would invalidate a basis on which social norm marketing is based. However, Henry Wechsler's assertion was discredited by a scholar who demonstrated that the logic and methods used by Mr. Wechsler were systematically erroneous and inappropriate. Actually, Henry Wechsler's own data demonstrate that most students greatly overestimate the extent of heavy drinking, a fact that clearly supports social norms marketing! Visit Alcohol & Social Norms Marketing; Erroneous Objection.
  • Wechsler, Henry, and Wuethrich, B. Dying to Drink: Confronting Binge Drinking on College Campuses. Emmaus, Pennsylvania: Rodale, 2002. This is not a scientific book but a "pop" book for mass consumption. For example, in the first chapter alone, non-scientific references outnumber peer-reviewed sources by about three to one. Heavily anecdotal, the book is largely based on personal stories and emotion rather than on facts and logic. Although not scientific, Henry Wechsler's book is useful for mobilizing social activism.
  • Wechsler, Henry, et al. Trends in college binge drinking during a period of increased prevention efforts: Findings from 4 Harvard School of Public Health College Alcohol Study surveys. -- 1993-2001. Journal of American College Health, 2002, 50(5), 203-217. Wechsler and colleagues found that, in spite of increasing sanctions for alcohol use, so-called binge drinking did not drop.
  • Wechsler, Henry. Underage college students' drinking behavior, access to alcohol, and the influence of deterrence policies: Findings from the Harvard School of Public Health College Alcohol Study. Journal of American College Health, 2002, 50(5), 223-237. Mr. Wechsler urged increased efforts to control underage student drinking through wider and stricter legislation.
  • Wechsler, Henry. Drinking levels, alcohol problems, and secondhand effects of substance-free college residences: Results of a notional study. JAMA: The Journal of the American Medical Association, 2001, 285(14), 1823 (abstract). Mr. Wechsler found no difference in drinking involvement among students in alcohol-free residence halls and those in unrestricted halls on college campuses.
  • Wechsler, Henry, et al. Alcohol use and problems at colleges banning alcohol: Results of a national survey. Journal of Studies on Alcohol, 2001, 62(2), 133. Henry Wechsler and colleagues reported that colleges with alcohol prohibition have students who drink less than those who select to attend colleges without alcohol prohibition.
  • Wechsler, Henry. What colleges are doing about student binge drinking. Journal of American College Health, 200, 48(5), 219. Mr. Wechsler reported variations in college and university policies to reduce so-called binge drinking among college students.
  • Wechsler, Henry., et al. College binge drinking in the 1990's. American Journal of College Health, 2000, 48(5), 199. Mr. Wechsler reported that so-called binge drinking was a continuing problem among college and university students.
  • Wechsler, Henry, et al. College alcohol use: A full or empty glass? Journal of American College Health, 1999, 47(6), 247. Mr. Wechsler found that the average number of alcoholic drinks consumed by American college and university students was 1.5 drinks per week (not per day). Federal government guidelines list two drinks per day (14 per week) as moderate consumption for a man.
  • Wechsler, Henry, et al. Binge drinking among college students: A comparison of California with other states. Journal of American College Health, 1997, 45(6), 273 Mr. Wechsler reported less frequent so-called binge drinking among college and university students in California. They suggested that the results might result from the fact that their California samples of students was older than the national sample.