Poland's anti-liquor law has its detractors - the village store

Poland has one of the world's worst alcohol problems, but it also has a consumers' ''liquor lobby'' which is questioning government efforts to make it a more sober nation.

A law to curb alcoholism took effect this year, extending a government monopoly over liquor from production to distribution and sales. The government hopes to reduce the number of sales outlets by one-third - from an existing 27, 000 - through an ''alcoholic beverages sales trust,'' which by 1986 would phase out sales in almost every village or town store.

Under the new law, a license will be required to sell any drink containing 1. 5 percent or more of alcohol. Licenses, it is said, will go only to approved stores.

This sparked a storm of criticism from commercial concerns faced with losing one of their most highly profitable sales items. Liquor, in recent years of severe economics crisis, has never been affected by the dire shortages of food and almost all other consumer commodities.

Numerous Poles in all walks of life - unfortunately, from officials and intellectuals to ordinary citizens - are incorrigibly compulsive drinkers. There has been widespread reaction scorning the new sales system as a proliferation of bureaucracy - which it may be - and as unnecessary - which, in Poland's case, hardly seems the case.

Since World War II, there have been periodic campaigns to stem a nationwide rise in the use of liquor. Figures throw a grim light on how they have fared.

According to an article in the weekly LAD, consumption of hard liquor for the ''average Pole'' has risen steadily from one liter in 1919 to 8.5 liters last year - an absolute world record, the paper said.

The paper also told of an ''alcohol-dominated life style,'' developed in the postwar period.

It has, in fact, as LAD pointed out, long become difficult indeed to get everyday services done in Poland without ''sweetening'' one's requests ''with a bottle,'' be it the doctor, or the worker who comes to mend a leaky faucet.

Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski - himself known to be a total abstainer - launched a new anti-alcohol campaign shortly after becoming prime minister in February 1981 .

In that year, material losses in industrial and other production attributed to heavy drinking amounted to 40 billion zlotys (then equal almost to about $1 billion). Up to 30 percent of all work-hours lost and 30 percent of all work accidents were attributed to alcohol.

It must be said many Poles do realize the gravity of the problem. It was no chance decision that during the August 1980 worker crisis that spawned Solidarity, the workers themselves instituted a ban on alcohol in the strike-bound shipyards and mines where many issues were fought with government negotiators.

But it is not only small shopkeepers worried about vodka profits - still booming despite big price hikes - or disgruntled consumers who question the merits of limiting the sales network as the way to combat alcoholism. The supposed controls have so far had little immediate effect.

Sales are still growing. Medical officials and volunteer anti-alcohol committees commend the restrictions as better than earlier ''shadow boxing'' with the problem, but still see it as not a really effective way to beat it.

Physicians and social workers point to the inadequacy of treatment and rehabilitation facilities as part of the problem. They also put much of the blame on Poland's economic situation.

It will persist, they say, until the zloty acquires more value and the economy provides desirable consumer goods. ''The wish to own such goods,'' LAD commented, ''would cause consumers to face up to the choice - this or the bottle?''

Wryly, the newspaper added: ''The trash which often fills shop shelves now cannot compete with alcohol, which has so deep a tradition in Polish custom. And an abundance of attractive goods, alas, is still a very remote prospect.''

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.