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no more czech mini spirits?

            (This article is based on one by Leos Rousek of the Wall Street Journal)

            The Czech Republic has banned  the sale of drinks containing more than 20% alcohol, toughening
            restrictions imposed following a series of deaths caused by toxic bootleg alcohol sold as legitimate
            drinks to unsuspecting customers.

            The ban on hard alcohol is the first in the country, which like many of its neighbors was known for
            fairly lax regulations on alcohol sales. Many of the local kiosks selling fast-food also offer whisky,
            vodka or brandy in bottles or plastic shot cups. Alcohol drinking and legitimate home brewing of fruit
            liquors are common in the Czech Republic.

            The ban took effect shortly after 7 p.m. Friday 21st September - limiting the night's bar-goers to
            consuming beer or wine. Health Ministry spokesman, Vlastimil Srsen, said "It is a blanket ban on
            sales of distilled liquor with alcohol content of 20% and higher at all shops, restaurants, bars or any
            other establishments across the entire country." He confirmed the ban would last indefinitely.

            The ministry escalated its measures after methanol-laced legitimate bottles started appearing in
            regular liquor stores. The first known sales of poisonous alcohol were at outdoor markets and
            kiosks. There were 19 deaths from the tainted drinks as of mid-September, and 27 people remained
            in critical condition, according to the Health Ministry.

            At least one illegal bottling facility, based in a residential basement garage in the Czech eastern city
            of Zlin, has been found and several individuals arrested, the Interior Ministry said. Some 5,000 liters
            of illegal alcohol, some containing toxic methanol, were found and impounded in the bottling facility,
            the authorities said.

            Some of the illegal alcohol at the facility was in standard bottles with fake labels of legitimate
            distillers, with fake or stolen official alcohol tax stamps glued on their screw caps, Health Minister
            Leos Heger said. Police officials declined to comment on their continuing investigations.

            Alcohol industry officials have warned that difficult economic times were shifting demand to kiosks
            and other establishments selling cheaper and illegal alcohol.

            The Czech distillers' union, known as UVDL, has called on the government to ban alcohol sales at
            kiosks, reduce the volume of the largest retail package of distilled alcohol to three liters from six,
            and require all shops selling alcohol to use digital cash registers to enable proper sales monitoring
            for tax officials.

            These measures will undoubtedly cause problems for Czech distillers, many of whom issue
            miniatures. They will also be a problem for the local mini collectors, especially if customs enforces
            these regulations against personal travelers at the borders.

            It will be interesting to see how the WTO reacts to this measure. If the cigarette companies in Aus &
            NZ can complain to the WTO about unfair practices with plain packets, what complaints can the
            local distillers make? And then there are organisations like the Scotch Whisky Association and
            numerous foreign distillers that sell into the Czech market. Good business for the lawyers!

                                                                                           David Smith

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