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Iranian police dump confiscated beer cans in Tehran. The possession, production, and consumption of alcohol is strictly forbidden in the Islamic republic and police often raid smugglers and illegal parties. (file photo)
Wine has always been a part of Iranian culture. References to it even appear frequently in poetry.

But since the 1979 revolution, alcohol has been banned in Iran -- punishable by flogging, fines, and jail time.

Despite the stiff penalties and the confiscation of millions of liters of alcoholic beverages, Iranian officials say consumption is on the rise.

The country's newspapers reported earlier this week that the amount of confiscated alcohol has increased by 69 percent in the past year.

Deputy Health Minister Alireza Mesdaghinia expressed concern on June 13 about an apparent increase in "abnormal behaviors such as alcohol consumption," which he said has damaging health effects and goes against the religious and moral norms of Iranian society.

"Personal reasons are the most important factors which lead to the spread of alcohol consumption in society,” he said. “Some think this is a way [to cope] with their frustrations."

'A Means Of Escape'

Mostafa Eghlima, the head of Iran’s Social Work Society, suggests that drinking alcohol is a means of escape for some Iranians.

"Alcoholic drinks are just one type of tranquilizer," he says. "We live in a society where there is economic pressure, social problems, and high inflation. People escape with alcohol to alleviate the pain.”

The head of the Health Ministry's Policy Making Council, Bagher Larijani, warned last month about "worrying" reports from hospitals and physicians over high alcohol consumption in southern districts of Tehran where poorer families reside.

But he also said alcohol abuse is a significant problem in other parts of the country, and urged the government to devote more attention to the issue.

"We should be sensitive about this issue and pay attention to it even more than we do to other ailments, such as diabetes or cardiovascular diseases," Larijani said.

Officials say there are some two million drug addicts in Iran, many of whom are also addicted to alcohol.

Members of an smuggling group at the Iraqi border get ready to sneak alcohol into Iran. (file photo)
Members of an smuggling group at the Iraqi border get ready to sneak alcohol into Iran. (file photo)

According to media reports, every year up to 80 million liters of alcohol are smuggled into Iran -- a third of which is confiscated.

Other alcoholic beverages, including homemade Armenian vodka, beer, whiskey, and French wine, are widely available on the black market.

Iranians can buy bottles at shops that sell them secretly and bootleggers who quietly make home deliveries.

Homemade Liquor

Some Iranians also make their own homemade liquor. And Christian minorities are exempted from the ban. There are also reportedly some factories that covertly produce alcoholic drinks.

In recent years, there has been an increasing number of reports about people who have died or lost their sight from the consumption of alcohol manufactured inside the country.

Last month, Iran’s "Shargh" daily quoted official figures, which suggest that it takes 22 minutes to get access to drugs in the Islamic republic and only 17 minutes to find alcohol.

Despite an ongoing police crackdown, Eghlima maintains that alcohol is widely available at parties.

"There is no wedding party without a special room for those who want to drink alcohol and have a good time," he says.

A man in Tehran, who asked that his name not be used, told RFE/RL that he sometimes had "a few drinks with friends to relax and forget all [my] problems."

"I know I can get arrested or fined but I don’t care," he said. "I need to have some fun."
Iranians have been facing a significant increase in prices for food and goods in recent months. (file photo)
Iran’s semi-official ILNA news agency reports that the Ministry of Industry, Mining, and Commerce recently sent a letter to trade unions and associations involved in the production and distribution of goods instructing them not to give interviews to the media about inflation.

"Noting that the implementation by the government of the second phase of the targeted subsidies plan is drawing closer, officials of unions and associations should refrain from giving any interviews to the media, especially on the increase of prices of goods, in order to prevent disturbing the public opinion," ILNA quoted the ministry's letter as saying.

Iranians have been facing a significant increase in prices for food and goods in recent months.

Iranian news agencies reported last week that the authorities increased the price of bread in Tehran by up to 33 percent.

Iran’s central bank issued a report earlier this month that showed a sharp rise in the price of most food staples in the Iranian capital since last year.

According to the report, which was posted on the website of the Mehr news agency, the price of a kilogram of eggplant has increased by 74 percent and a kilogram of chicken by 57 percent since the last Iranian year.

The rise in the price of goods and food staples is reportedly due to the cutting of subsidies and economic mismanagement but also to the sanctions imposed against the Islamic republic over its sensitive nuclear work.

-- Golnaz Esfandiari

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About This Blog

Persian Letters is a blog that offers a window into Iranian politics and society. Written primarily by Golnaz Esfandiari, Persian Letters brings you under-reported stories, insight and analysis, as well as guest Iranian bloggers -- from clerics, anarchists, feminists, Basij members, to bus drivers.


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