Prohibition is the act or practice of forbidding something by law; more particularly the term refers to the banning of the manufacture, storage (whether in barrels or in bottles), transportation, sale, possession, and consumption of alcoholic beverages. The word is also used to refer to a period of time during which such bans are enforced.


Some kind of limitation on the trade in alcohol can be seen in the Code of Hammurabi (ca.1772 BCE) specifically banning the selling of beer for money. It could only be bartered for barley: "If a beer seller do not receive barley as the price for beer, but if she receive money or make the beer a measure smaller than the barley measure received, they shall throw her into the water."[1]

In the early twentieth century, much of the impetus for the prohibition movement in the Nordic countries and North America came from moralistic convictions of pietistic Protestants.[2] Prohibition movements in the West coincided with the advent of women's suffrage, with newly empowered women as part of the political process strongly supporting policies that curbed alcohol consumption.[3][4]

The first half of the 20th century saw periods of prohibition of alcoholic beverages in several countries:

  • 1907 to 1948 in Prince Edward Island,[5] and for shorter periods in other provinces in Canada
  • 1907 to 1992 in the Faroe Islands; limited private imports from Denmark were allowed from 1928
  • 1914 to 1925[6] in the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union
  • 1915 to 1933 in Iceland (beer was still prohibited until 1989)[7]
  • 1916 to 1927 in Norway (fortified wine and beer were also prohibited from 1917 to 1923)
  • 1919 in the Hungarian Soviet Republic, March 21 to August 1; called szesztilalom
  • 1919 to 1932 in Finland (called kieltolaki, "ban law")
  • 1920 to 1933 in the United States

After several years, prohibition failed in North America and elsewhere. Rum-running or bootlegging became widespread, and organized crime took control of the distribution of alcohol. Distilleries and breweries in Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean flourished as their products were either consumed by visiting Americans or illegally exported to the United States. Chicago became notorious as a haven for prohibition dodgers during the time known as the Roaring Twenties. Prohibition generally came to an end in the late 1920s or early 1930s in most of North America and Europe, although a few locations continued prohibition for many more years.

In some countries where the dominant religion forbids the use of alcohol, the production, sale, and consumption of alcoholic beverages is prohibited or restricted today. For example, in Saudi Arabia and Libya alcohol is banned; in Pakistan and Iran it is illegal with exceptions.[8]

Asia - Africa


Sale of alcohol is banned in Afghanistan.


In Bangladesh, alcohol is somewhat prohibited due to its proscription in the Islamic faith. However, the purchase and consumption is allowed in the country. The Garo tribe consume a type of rice beer, and Christians in this country drink and purchase wine for their holy communion.


In Brunei, alcohol consumption and sale is banned in public. Non-Muslims are allowed to purchase a limited amount of alcohol from their point of embarcation overseas for their own private consumption, and non-Muslims who are at least the age of 18 are allowed to bring in not more than two bottles of liquor (about two litres) and twelve cans of beer per person into the country.


In India alcohol is a state subject and individual states can legislate prohibition, but currently most states do not have prohibition and sale/consumption is freely available in 25 out of 29 states. Prohibition is in force in the states of Gujarat, Bihar and Nagaland, parts of Manipur, and the union territory of Lakshadweep. All other States and union territories of India permit the sale of alcohol.[9]

Election days and certain national holidays such as Independence Day are meant to be dry days when liquor sale is not permitted but consumption is allowed. Some Indian states observe dry days on major religious festivals/occasions depending on the popularity of the festival in that region.


Since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, the sale and consumption of alcohol is banned in Iran. All people are banned from drinking alcohol but some people trade and sell it illegally.[10]


Alcohol sales are banned in small shops and convenience stores.[11]


The consumption, importation and brewing of, and trafficking in liquor is strictly against the law.[12]


Alcohol is banned only for Muslims in Malaysia due to its Islamic faith and sharia law.[13] Nevertheless, alcoholic products can easily be found in supermarkets, specialty shops, and convenience stores all over the country. Non-halal restaurants also typically sell alcohol.


The Maldives ban the import of alcohol, x-raying all baggage on arrival. Alcoholic beverages are available only to foreign tourists on resort islands and may not be taken off the resort.


In the British colony of Nigeria, missionary forces demanded prohibition of liquor, which proved highly unpopular. Both Africans and Europeans found illegal supplies such as secret stills, obtaining colonial liquor permits, and smuggling. The experiment began in 1890 and was repealed in 1939,[14]


Pakistan allowed the free sale and consumption of alcohol for three decades from 1947, but restrictions were introduced by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto just weeks before he was removed as prime minister in 1977. Since then, only members of non-Muslim minorities such as Hindus, Christians and Zoroastrians are allowed to apply for alcohol permits. The monthly quota is dependent upon one's income, but is actually about five bottles of liquor or 100 bottles of beer. In a country of 180 million, only about 60 outlets are allowed to sell alcohol. The Murree Brewery in Rawalpindi was once the only legal brewery, but today there are more. The ban officially is enforced by the country's Islamic Ideology Council, but it is not strictly policed. Members of religious minorities, however, often sell their liquor permits to Muslims as part of a continuing black market trade in alcohol.[15]


There are only restrictions during elections in the Philippines. Alcohol is prohibited from purchase two days prior to an election. The Philippine Commission on Elections may opt to extend the liquor ban. In the 2010 elections, the liquor ban was a minimum two days; in the 2013 elections, there was a proposal that it be extended to five days. This was overturned by the Supreme Court.

Other than election-related prohibition, alcohol is freely sold to anyone above the legal drinking age.

Saudi Arabia

The sale, consumption, importation and brewing of, and trafficking in liquor is strictly against the law.[16]

Sri Lanka

In 1955 Sri Lanka passed a law prohibiting adult women from buying alcohol.[17] In January 2018, Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera announced that the law would be amended, allowing women to legally consume alcohol and work in venues that sell alcohol.[17][18] The legalization was overruled by President Maithripala Sirisena several days later.[19]


Alcohol is prohibited from being sold during election time, from 6 pm the day prior to voting, until the end of the day of voting itself. Alcohol is also prohibited on major Buddhist holy days, and sometimes on Royal Commemoration days, such as birthdays.

Thailand also enforces time-limited bans on alcohol on a daily basis. Alcohol can only be legally purchased in stores or restaurants between 11 am–2 pm and 5 pm–midnight. This law is enforced by all major retailers (most notably 7-Eleven) and restaurants but is frequently ignored by the smaller 'mom and pop' stores. Hotels and resorts are exempt from the rules.

The consumption of alcohol is also banned at any time within 200 meters of a filling station (where sale of alcohol is also illegal), schools, temples or hospitals as well as on board any type of road vehicle regardless of whether it is being consumed by the driver or passenger.

At certain times of the year – Thai New Year (Songkran) as an example – the government may also enforce arbitrary bans on the sale and consumption of alcohol in specific public areas where large scale festivities are due to take place and large crowds are expected.


Alcohol is banned in Yemen.[16]


Czech Republic

On 14 September 2012, the government of the Czech Republic banned all sales of liquor with more than 20% alcohol. From this date on it was illegal to sell such alcoholic beverages in shops, supermarkets, bars, restaurants, gas stations, e-shops etc. This measure was taken in response to the wave of methanol poisoning cases resulting in the deaths of 18 people in the Czech Republic.[20] Since the beginning of the "methanol affair" the total number of deaths has increased to 25. The ban was to be valid until further notice,[21] though restrictions were eased towards the end of September.[22] The last bans on Czech alcohol with regard to the poisoning cases were lifted on 10 October 2012, when neighbouring Slovakia and Poland allowed its import once again.[23]

Nordic countries

The Nordic countries, with the exception of Denmark, have had a strong temperance movement since the late 1800s, closely linked to the Christian revival movement of the late 19th century, but also to several worker organisations. As an example, in 1910 the temperance organisations in Sweden had some 330,000 members,[24] which was about 6% of a population of 5.5 million.[25] This heavily influenced the decisions of Nordic politicians in the early 20th century.

In 1907, the Faroe Islands passed a law prohibiting all sale of alcohol, which was in force until 1992. Very restricted private importation from Denmark was allowed from 1928 on.

In 1914, Sweden put in place a rationing system, the Bratt System, in force until 1955. A referendum in 1922 rejected an attempt to enforce total prohibition.

In 1915, Iceland instituted total prohibition. The ban for wine was lifted in 1922 and spirits in 1935, but beer remained prohibited until 1989 (circumvented by mixing light beer and spirits).

In 1916, Norway prohibited distilled beverages, and in 1917 the prohibition was extended to also include fortified wine and beer. The wine and beer ban was lifted in 1923, and in 1927 the ban of distilled beverages was also lifted.

In 1919, Finland enacted prohibition, as one of the first acts after independence from the Russian Empire. Four previous attempts to institute prohibition in the early 20th century had failed due to opposition from the tsar. After a development similar to the one in the United States during its prohibition, with large-scale smuggling and increasing violence and crime rates, public opinion turned against the prohibition, and after a national referendum where 70% voted for a repeal of the law, prohibition was ended in early 1932.[26][27]

Today, all Nordic countries (with the exception of Denmark) continue to have strict controls on the sale of alcohol which is highly taxed (dutied) to the public. There are government monopolies in place for selling spirits, wine, and stronger beers in Norway (Vinmonopolet), Finland (Alko), Sweden (Systembolaget), Iceland (Vínbúðin), and the Faroe Islands (Rúsdrekkasøla Landsins). Bars and restaurants may, however, import alcoholic beverages directly or through other companies.

Greenland, which is part of the Kingdom of Denmark, does not share its easier controls on the sale of alcohol.[28] Greenland has (like Denmark) sales in food shops, but prices are high. Private import when traveling from Denmark is only allowed in small quantities.

Russian Empire and the Soviet Union

In the Russian Empire, a limited version of a Dry Law was introduced in 1914.[29] It continued through the turmoil of the Russian Revolution of 1917 and the Russian Civil War into the period of Soviet Russia and the Soviet Union until 1925.

United Kingdom

Although the sale or consumption of commercial alcohol has never been prohibited by law in the United Kingdom, historically, various groups in the UK have campaigned for the prohibition of alcohol; including the Society of Friends (Quakers), The Methodist Church and other non-conformists, as well as temperance movements such as Band of Hope and temperance Chartist movements of the nineteenth century.

Formed in 1853 and inspired by the Maine law in the United States, the United Kingdom Alliance aimed at promoting a similar law prohibiting the sale of alcohol in the UK. This hard-line group of prohibitionists was opposed by other temperance organisations who preferred moral persuasion to a legal ban. This division in the ranks limited the effectiveness of the temperance movement as a whole. The impotence of legislation in this field was demonstrated when the Sale of Beer Act 1854 which restricted Sunday opening hours had to be repealed, following widespread rioting. In 1859, a prototype prohibition bill was overwhelmingly defeated in the House of Commons.[30]

On 22 March 1917, during the First World War at a crowded meeting in the Queen's Hall in London (chaired by Alfred Booth) many influential people including Agnes Weston spoke, or letters from them were read out, against alcohol consumption, calling for prohibition; General Sir Reginald Hart wrote to the meeting that "Every experienced officer knew that practically all unhappiness and crime in the Army is due to drink". At the meeting, Lord Channing said that it was a pity that the whole Cabinet did not follow the example of King George V and Lord Kitchener when in 1914 those two spoke calling for complete prohibition for the duration of the war.[31]

North America


Indigenous peoples in Canada were subject to prohibitory alcohol laws under the Indian Act of 1876.[32] Sections of the Indian Act regarding liquor were not repealed for over a hundred years, until 1985.[32]

An official, but non-binding, federal referendum on prohibition was held in 1898. Prime Minister Wilfrid Laurier's government chose not to introduce a federal bill on prohibition, mindful of the strong antipathy in Quebec. As a result, Canadian prohibition was instead enacted through laws passed by the provinces during the first twenty years of the 20th century, especially during the 1910s. However, Canada did enact a national prohibition from 1918 to 1920, as a temporary wartime measure.[33][34] Much of the rum-running during prohibition took place in Windsor, Ontario. The provinces later repealed their prohibition laws, mostly during the 1920s, although some local municipalities remain dry.


Some communities in the Chiapas state of southern Mexico are under the control of the radical leftist Zapatista Army of National Liberation, and often ban alcohol as part of what was described as "a collective decision". This prohibition has been used by many villages as a way to decrease domestic violence and has generally been favored by women.[35] However, this prohibition is not recognized by federal Mexican law as the Zapatista movement is strongly opposed by the federal government.

The sale and purchase of alcohol is prohibited on and the night before certain national holidays, such as Natalicio de Benito Juárez (birthdate of Benito Juárez) and Día de la Revolución, which are meant to be dry nationally. The same "dry law" applies to the days before presidential elections every six years.

United States

Prohibition in the United States focused on the manufacture, transportation, and sale of alcoholic beverages; however, exceptions were made for medicinal and religious uses. Alcohol consumption was never illegal under federal law. Nationwide Prohibition did not begin in the United States until January 1920, when the Eighteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution went into effect. The 18th amendment was ratified in 1919, and was repealed in December 1933 with the ratification of the Twenty-first Amendment.[36]

Temperance movement

Concern over excessive alcohol consumption began during the American colonial era, when fines were imposed for drunken behavior and for selling liquor without a license.[37] In the eighteenth century, when drinking was a part of everyday American life, Protestant religious groups, especially the Methodists, and health reformers, including Benjamin Rush and others, urged Americans to curb their drinking habits for moral and health reasons. In particular, Benjamin Rush believed Americans were drinking hard spirits in excess, so he created "A Moral and Physical Thermometer," displaying the progression of behaviors caused by the consumption of various alcohols. By the 1840s the temperance movement was actively encouraging individuals to immediately stop drinking. Music (a completely new genre) was composed and performed in support of the efforts, both in social contexts and in response to state legislation attempts to regulate alcohol. Many took a pledge of total abstinence (teetotalism) from drinking distilled liquor as well as beer and wine. However, the issue of slavery, and then the Civil War, overshadowed the temperance movement, and temperance groups petered out until they found new life in the 1870s.[38]

Prohibition was a major reform movement from the 1870s until the 1920s, when nationwide prohibition went into effect. Prohibition was supported by evangelical Protestant churches, especially the Methodists, Baptists, Presbyterians, Disciples of Christ, Congregationalists, Quakers, and Scandinavian Lutherans. Opposition came from Catholics, Episcopalians, and German Lutherans.[39] Kansas and Maine were early adopters of statewide prohibition. Following passage of the Maine law, Delaware, Ohio, Illinois, Rhode Island, Minnesota, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, and New York, among others, soon passed statewide prohibition legislation; however, a number of these laws were overturned.[37]

Women served a special role in the temperance movement.[40] Along with prostitution, alcohol was seen as a vice that kept men out of their homes and caused them to oppress their wives. Carrie Nation, a middle-aged woman living in Kansas in the early 1900s, grew tired of the moral protesting and began a campaign destroying bars first in Kansas and later across the entire United States. She said once that "almost everyone who was in jail was directly or indirectly there from the influence of intoxicating drinks,"[41] which encapsulated people's negative attitudes towards alcohol at the time. Nation also said, after she destroyed a painting of a nude woman, "It is very significant that the pictures of naked women are in saloons. Women are stripped of everything by them. Her husband is torn from her, she is robbed of her sons, her home, her food, and her virtue, and then they strip her clothes off and hang her up bare of all things!"[41]

As temperance groups continued to promote prohibition, other groups opposed increased alcohol restrictions. For example, Chicago's citizens fought against enforcing Sunday closings laws in the 1850s, which included mob violence. It was also during this time when patent medicines, many of which contained alcohol, gained popularity. During the American Civil War efforts at increasing federal revenue included imposition of taxes on liquor and beer. The liquor industry responded to the taxes by forming an industry lobby, the United States Brewers Association, that succeeded in reducing the tax rate on beer from $1 to 60 cents. The Women's Crusade of 1873 and the Woman's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU), founded in 1874, "marked the formal entrance of women into the temperance movement."[37] Organizations such as the Women's Christian Temperance Movement were a venue through which certain women organized and demanded political action, well before they were granted the vote.[42] The WCTU and the Prohibition Party, organized in 1869, remained major players in the temperance movement until the early twentieth century, when the Anti-Saloon League, formed in 1895, emerged as the movement's leader.[37]

Between 1880 and 1890, although several states enacted local option laws that allowed counties or towns to go dry by referendum, only six states had statewide prohibition by state statute or constitutional amendment. The League, with the support of evangelical Protestant churches and other Progressive-era reformers continued to press for prohibition legislation. Opposition to prohibition was strong in America's urban industrial centers, where a large, immigrant, working-class population generally opposed it, as did Jewish and Catholic religious groups. In the years leading up to World War I, nativism, American patriotism, distrust of immigrants, and anti-German sentiment became associated with the prohibition movement. Through the use of pressure politics on legislators, the League and other temperance reformers achieved the goal of nationwide prohibition by emphasizing the need to destroy the moral corruption of the saloons and the political power of the brewing industry, and to reduce domestic violence in the home. By 1913 nine states had stateside prohibition and thirty-one others had local option laws in effect, which included nearly fifty percent of the U.S. population. At that time the League and other reformers turned their efforts toward attaining a constitutional amendment and grassroots support for nationwide prohibition.[37]

18th Amendment to the Constitution

In December 1917, Congress submitted a constitutional amendment on nationwide prohibition to the states for ratification.[43] The new constitutional amendment prohibited "the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors within, the importation thereof into, or the exportation thereof from the United States and all territory subject to the jurisdiction thereof for beverage purposes".[44] It was ratified and became law on January 16, 1919, assuring its passage into law.[37] On October 28, 1919, Congress passed the National Prohibition Act, also known as the Volstead Act, which provided enabling legislation to implement the Eighteenth Amendment.[45] When the National Prohibition Act was passed on October 28, 1919, thirty-three of the forty-eight states were already dry. After a year's required delay, national prohibition began on January 16, 1920.[37]

During the first years of Prohibition, the new law was enforced in regions such as the rural South and western states, where it had popular support; however, in large urban cities and small industrial or mining towns, residents defied or ignored the law.[37] The Ku Klux Klan was a major supporter of Prohibition; once it was passed they helped with its enforcement. For example, in 1923, Klansmen traded pistol shots with bootleggers, burned down roadhouses, and whipped liquor sellers, and anybody else who broke the moral code.[46] The Prohibition was effective in reducing per-capita consumption, and consumption remained lower for a quarter-century after Prohibition had been repealed.[47]

Prohibition reduced alcohol consumption but did not stop it. Drinking itself was never illegal, although manufacturing and sale of alcoholic beverages was outlawed, so people who had bought alcohol before January 16, 1920, could and did continue to serve it privately.[48] In addition, the illicit market soon grew to about two-thirds its pre-Prohibition levels.[49] Illegal stills flourished in remote rural areas as well as city slums, and large quantities were smuggled from Canada. Bootlegging – and the related speakeasies – became a major business activity for organized crime groups, under leaders such as Al Capone in Chicago and Lucky Luciano in New York City.[50] Indeed, Capone became a national symbol of Prohibition's violent side and was a top target for President Hoover.[51]


Prohibition lost support during the Great Depression, which started in 1929. So-called "wets" – people in favor of repeal – argued that legal sales would reduce violent gang crime, increase employment and raise tax revenues.[52] The repeal movement was initiated and financed by the Association Against the Prohibition Amendment, who worked to elect Congressmen who agreed to support repeal. The group's wealthy supporters included John D. Rockefeller, Jr., S. S. Kresge, and the Du Pont family, among others, who had abandoned the dry cause.[37] Pauline Sabin, a wealthy Republican who founded the Women's Organization for National Prohibition Reform (WONPR), argued that Prohibition should be repealed because it made the United States a nation of hypocrites and undermined its respect for the rule of law. This hypocrisy and the fact that women had initially led the prohibition movement convinced Sabin to establish the WONPR. Their efforts eventually led to the repeal of prohibition.[53][54] When Sabin's fellow Republicans would not support her efforts, she went to the Democrats, who switched their support of the dry cause to endorse repeal under the leadership of liberal politicians such as Fiorello La Guardia and Franklin D. Roosevelt. Sabin and her supporters emphasized that repeal would generate enormous sums of much-needed tax revenue, and weaken the base of organized crime.

Repeal of Prohibition was accomplished with the ratification of the Twenty-first Amendment on December 5, 1933. Under its terms, states were allowed to set their own laws for the control of alcohol.


Following repeal, public interest in an organized prohibition movement dwindled. However, it survived for a while in a few southern and border states.[53][54] To this day, there are still counties and parishes within the US known as "dry", where the sale of alcohol – liquor, and sometimes wine and beer – is prohibited. Some such counties/parishes/municipalities have adopted "Moist county" policies, however, in order to expand tax revenue.[55] Some municipalities regulate when alcohol can be sold; an example is restricting or banning sales on Sunday, under the so-called "blue laws".

South America


In Venezuela, twenty-four hours before every election, the government prohibits the sale and distribution of alcoholic beverages throughout the national territory, including the restriction to all dealers, liquor stores, supermarkets, restaurants, wineries, pubs, bars, public entertainment, clubs and any establishment that markets alcoholic beverages.[56]

The same is done during Holy Week as a measure to reduce the alarming rate of road traffic accidents during these holidays.[57][58]



The Australian Capital Territory (then the Federal Capital Territory) was the first jurisdiction in Australia to have prohibition laws. In 1911, King O'Malley, then Minister of Home Affairs, shepherded laws through Parliament preventing new issue or transfer of licences to sell alcohol, to address unruly behaviour among workers building the new capital city. Prohibition was partial, since possession of alcohol purchased outside of the Territory remained legal and the few pubs that had existing licences could continue to operate. The Federal Parliament repealed the laws after residents of the Federal Capital Territory voted for the end of them in a 1928 plebiscite.[59]

Since then, some state governments and local councils have enacted dry areas. This is where the purchase or consumption of alcohol is only permitted in licensed areas such as liquor stores, clubs, cafes, bars, hotels, restaurants, and also private homes. In public places such as streets, parks, and squares, consumption is not permitted, but carrying bottles that were purchased at licensed venues is allowed. Almost all dry areas are small defined districts within larger urban or rural communities.[60][61][62]

More recently, alcohol has been prohibited in many remote indigenous communities. Penalties for transporting alcohol into these "dry" communities are severe and can result in confiscation of any vehicles involved; in dry areas within the Northern Territory, all vehicles used to transport alcohol are seized.

New Zealand

In New Zealand, prohibition was a moralistic reform movement begun in the mid-1880s by the Protestant evangelical and Nonconformist churches and the Woman's Christian Temperance Union and after 1890 by the Prohibition League. It assumed that individual virtue was all that was needed to carry the colony forward from a pioneering society to a more mature one, but it never achieved its goal of national prohibition. However, both the Church of England and the largely Irish Catholic Church rejected prohibition as an intrusion of government into the church's domain, while the growing labor movement saw capitalism rather than alcohol as the enemy.[63][64]

Reformers hoped that the women's vote, in which New Zealand was a pioneer, would swing the balance, but the women were not as well organized as in other countries. Prohibition had a majority in a national referendum in 1911, but needed a 60% vote to pass. The movement kept trying in the 1920s, losing three more referenda by close votes; it managed to keep in place a 6 p.m. closing hour for pubs and Sunday closing. The Depression and war years effectively ended the movement.[63][64] but their 6 p.m. closing hour remained until October 1967 when it was extended to 10 p.m.

For many years, referenda were held for individual towns or electorates, often coincident with general elections. The ballots determined whether these individual areas would be "dry" – that is, alcohol could not be purchased or consumed in public in these areas. One notable example was the southern city of Invercargill, which was dry from 1907 to 1943. People wanting alcohol usually travelled to places outside the city (such as the nearby township of Lorneville or the town of Winton) to drink in the local pubs or purchase alcohol to take back home. The last bastion of this 'dry' area remains in force in the form of a licensing trust which still to this day governs the sale of liquor in Invercargill. The city does not allow the sale of alcohol (beer and wine included) in supermarkets unlike the remainder of New Zealand, and all form of alcohol regardless of the sort can only be sold in bars and liquor stores.

Prohibition was of limited success in New Zealand as—like in other countries—it led to organised bootlegging. The most famous bootlegged alcohol in New Zealand was that produced in the Hokonui Hills close to the town of Gore (not coincidentally, the nearest large town to Invercargill). Even today, the term "Hokonui" conjures up images of illicit whisky to many New Zealanders.[65]


In many countries in Latin America, the Philippines, Thailand, Turkey and several US states, the sale but not the consumption of alcohol is prohibited before and during elections.[66][67]

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