A Physician’s View of Prohibition

In 1922, the physician Kurt L. Elsner, M.D. wrote a New York Times Magazine column arguing against Prohibition not from a moral or constitutional perspective, as most debates did, but from a health perspective.

And as far as injury to health in concerned, I may state right here that I have seen more people’s health ruined by excessive smoking than by drinking or drugs. But the drunkard is noisy and boisterous and more objectionable and noticeable than the other and seems therefore larger in numbers.

But altogether of the whole population it is probably less than 2 per cent. who are either drunkard or drug fiends, exaggerated statements to the contrary notwithstanding. The other 98 per cent. would never even feel the temptation to drink to excess or to use drugs if they were imprisoned in a whole warehouse full of morphine, whisky, wine, and cordials.

While this may perhaps have been a controversial position at the time, by 2022 it’s incontrovertible that excessive smoking is a far bigger public health problem than excessive drinking. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), direct tobacco use kills more than 7 million people worldwide each year, more than double alcohol’s annual death rate of 3 million.

Looking up the writer and doctor Kurt L. Elsner, turns out he was also granted a 1913 patent for a fire-escape apparatus:

A Physician’s View of Prohibition

Published: Sunday, November 12, 1922

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