ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday February 24, 2008
Vol. 42 - No 39

Wasted days ‘n’ wasted nights?

By Madhushala Senaratne

I saw no harm in it. People drink and smoke all the time. I wasn't an addict. It was just a fun, normal thing I used to do with my mates on Saturday nights. I hardly drove after a drink. My friend used to do it, 'coz he hardly drank. There were the usual security checks on our way home and the occasional speeding, but never anything too serious. But all changed just a few weeks ago.

It was just another night. My friend, challenged by the drunken, wasted lot, raced another car. It was brilliant and thrilling until he lost control. Two of my friends are in hospital now fighting for their lives and we… We still don't know how it happened.

It all begans like this. At first we see no big deal in drinking or smoking (socially, at least) although we are constantly reminded that it is harmful to our health, addictive and can completely destroy us. We have also been told that once drunk, we are quite unaware of our actions which could leave us with a broken arm, make us spend months behind bars or lead us to our graves. Yet we make the same mistake, until one day it hits us hard.

Every year at least 40,000 individuals die of smoking and drinking in Sri Lanka, according to the Alcohol and Drug Information Centre (ADIC), an organization that promotes drug demand reduction. "But think of it this way," says Kumari Welagedara, the Programme Officer of ADIC. "The alcohol and tobacco industries need money. So when 40,000 of their consumers die, they need to fill that void which makes them target a new set of people," she says, adding that we are mere pawns of these industries that are driven by power and money.

"You are being manipulated by the alcohol and tobacco industries. They give us no space to breathe. You are made to believe that drinking and smoking is fun, cool and trendy. They have all these glamorous adverts. Women who smoke are portrayed as rebellious. Also, the brand you smoke matters as what define who you are and your social class," Kumari explains. "This sort of activity does not improve your quality of life, but rather makes it very predictable," she adds.

"I don't see why people drink or smoke. I don't understand what pleasure they get out of it," says Shanika (22). "In a way it shows a person's inability to be in control of themselves. When you are drunk you don't know what you are doing and you can do some extremely horrible things that might tarnish your image for the rest of your life. And the funny thing is that you would not understand why you did it or how you did it, which is a scary feeling. What if you meet with an accident, or what if you pick a fight with someone? You not only harm yourself, but a lot of people around you and what's more, you are so drunk you won't even be able to defend yourself"

Rajitha (24) who consumes alcohol occasionally, believes that there are certain misconceptions and people drink for the wrong reasons. "Sometimes people drink so that they can mix with people, be around their friends who drink and have fun together. But then there are some people who don't get drunk, but still manage to have fun with their drunken friends. So I don't think you need to get drunk to enjoy your evening," he says.

"I think its upto the individual to decide if he or she wants to drink or not. Most people are aware of the consequences of drinking and smoking and especially if they are over the legal age it's their responsibility," says Jeewaka (21).

Drinking and smoking may be fun and it's certainly one of those things many of us love to try out. Yet what are we wasting money on? Where does it take us? Is it worth it?

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