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Your Drink Business at Risk

September 6, 2011 By: Sarah Longwell


For many Americans nothing quite says summer like a cold beer with smoky barbeque or a frozen, spirited concoction or glass of wine while dining al fresco. But as summer winds down and we head back into the legislative season, we must be in tune to the well-financed and fired-up groups out there who want Americans to say goodbye to summer sipping — permanently.

Anti-alcohol groups are leading a nationwide campaign to reduce alcohol consumption, even among responsible adults. From preventing happy hours at restaurants and beer consumption at state fairs to advocating for sobriety checkpoints, higher alcohol taxes and alcohol detection devices in all cars, these neo-prohibitionists won’t stop until they’ve eliminated your guests’ right to drink moderately and responsibly, as well as your ability to serve responsibly.

This session, Utah became the latest state to restrict bars and restaurants from offering drink specials and hosting happy hours. Utah joins 16 other states that have already enacted similar bans at the urging of anti-alcohol activists. These activists criticize drink specials for encouraging binge drinking, despite the fact that laws prohibiting bartenders from serving clearly intoxicated customers exist and that the vast majority of on-premise operators work diligently to comply and create responsible service cultures.

Even if you do operate in a state where you are free to host a happy hour special, you may not be able to enjoy any alcohol beverages at your local fair on your day off. Anti-alcohol activists want to prohibit adults from enjoying drinks in separate 21-and-over areas at local carnivals and fairs. Just last week, Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) protested the inclusion of a “beer garden” at a county fair in northern Ohio, claiming it would encourage underage consumption. And “Alcohol Justice” (formerly the Marin Institute) claims that no event can be called family friendly if there is any alcohol present.

The other front where these groups are attacking is taxation. Anti-alcohol activists have launched massive campaigns across the country (and succeeded in Connecticut and Maryland) to hike alcohol taxes this year. Neo-prohibitionists argue that higher alcohol taxes are necessary to reduce alcohol abuse, but according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), taxes do little to deter consumption among the heaviest drinkers. Instead, higher taxes tend to cut consumption of light and moderate drinkers, which can significantly impact your business while not solving the problem of abuse and drunk driving.

Of course, for those patrons who do spend the money to have a single drink in your establishment, neo-prohibitionists don’t think they should be able to then hop in their cars and drive home. While most social drinkers understand that it’s fine to have a drink or two before driving home — over a reasonable amount of time and preferably with food — MADD and other anti-alcohol activists want to discourage any form of drinking and driving. The potential negative impact on the restaurant business is unmistakable.

Over the years, the activist message has evolved from “don’t drive drunk” to “don’t drink and drive.” Because of this, they have diverted attention away from the actual cause of the drunk-driving problem — hard-core and repeat offenders — and are instead targeting responsible adults and your business.

Cracking down on social drinkers makes little sense considering that National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) data show that the average blood alcohol content (BAC) of a drunk driver in a fatal crash is .19% — over twice the legal limit.

On the drunk driving front, MADD has joined forces with automakers and other anti-alcohol activists to develop alcohol detection devices as standard equipment in all vehicles. They are currently asking Congress to approve $60 million in funding to perfect such technology. Once installed, these devices will be calibrated well below the legal limit (as low as .03% or .02% BAC) to ensure that car companies aren’t liable for any damages. Since it can take time for a person to reach peak BAC after he stops drinking, an individual could start his car with a legal BAC, and then cross over the legal limit during his drive.

The devices could be set even closer to zero if activists succeed in lowering the legal BAC to .05%. The World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention support such a move. Yet, a recent study in Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research revealed that there is no significant physiological impairment between those who had consumed no alcohol and those who had consumed a moderate amount of alcohol.

Neo-prohibitionists don’t care about science, statistics, your ability to operate your business responsibly or even common sense. While the hospitality industry wants to promote responsible drinking habits, the activist war on social drinking may very well leave your guests dining entirely empty-handed next summer. If the impact of that scenario on your business concerns you – and it should – visit abionline.org for more information on how you can get involved in the fight to protect the right to serve and drink alcohol responsibly.


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