Alcohol curbs: Yes, but in moderation

The Little India riot of a year ago influenced public attitudes on a range of issues - from law and order to how imported labour should be managed. Some of the more considered views gathered in public consultations will find their way into the updating of existing state policy and formulation of new measures. But the Little India experience, where selective bans are still in force following the commotion which has shaped public opinion, is bound to affect new statutory controls being considered.

Stifling restrictions advocated by some Members of Parliament and interest groups would be as unjustified as generous dispensations. Australia and Russia, prominent among countries with a liberal approach, are paying a price in road accidents, random violence and drink-related illnesses.

The Home Affairs Ministry has given the assurance it will balance the interests of the wider society, imbibers and the liquor business. It is the only approach feasible in a city which is neither steadfastly conservative nor overly permissive. It would do well to remember that, while heartland values are given due attention by policymakers, Singapore's success owes no less to its cosmopolitan, international orientation. A certain lifestyle vibrancy comes with the territory, with all that it implies.

All in moderation, of course. Together with smoking and organised gambling among common indulgences, the state has used tax and punitive tools to keep such habits within bounds. Singaporeans are on the whole comfortable with moderate restrictions imposed for the sake of preserving public order. Other major cities, from some in the United States to Australia, have worked out various ways to restrict access to alcohol at certain times and places to help prevent a private indulgence becoming a public nuisance.

The Government is due to announce alcohol control measures early next year after two rounds of feedback gathering, the first of which preceded the riot. There is no argument the proposals that have emerged are in the main reasonable. Overwhelming numbers of respondents supported controls on consumption in public places (especially within residential areas and those with a history of disorderly conduct). Restrictions on sale, by time limits and location, also found wide support.

The devil is in the detail. Areas where public drinking, bar licensing hours and sales are to be restricted need to be appropriate to the specific objectives being sought. Youth drinking for instance require greater attention. If binge drinking among young people looks to be an emerging problem, then apart from education, the legal drinking age now set at 18 may also need a relook.