When the American Beverage Institute (ABI) was founded by a group involving Rick Berman and some concerned operators and suppliers, I bet they figured the organization had a finite existance: Band together to fight excise tax increases and the lowering of the blood alcohol content (BAC), and move on. Twenty years and many battles later, the group continues to fight the good fight, but on some much more complex – and even convoluted – issues and in a much more complicated environment.
That the alcohol policy playing field has shifted from the halls of government to the Internet and Main Street USA was evident during the ABI member meeting in Palm Beach, Fla. in late September. While two decades ago, Berman and the ABI leadership were rallying the troops to state their case to legislators, today, the group is mustering the forces to duke it out in the arena of public opinion.
The logic is simple: Unless American citizens understand that alcohol can and is enjoyed responsibly by the vast majority of adults who choose to consume it, and that they need to get involved in the policy making process, then alcohol will be increasingly taxed, demonized and restricted to the point of Prohibition. So ABI is active in everything from television to social media with a number of campaigns designed to engage consumers. A Drinks with Friends page on Facebook has nearly 76,000 fans who share drink recipes as quickly as they do their opinions on interlocks in cars. People obviously are interested in the issues surrounding alcohol and willing to engage on the topic. For more on ABI, view this video.
An upshot of the meeting was the question of whether companies operating restaurants that serve alcohol are informing their own employees of the challenges facing their businesses from the anti-alcohol front. What are you doing to expose your bartenders, servers, managers and executive teams to information on issues like drink taxes, ignition interlock and other restrictive policies? Email me – I’d love to know how you are raising awareness among your co-workers. And don't forget to share this video with other members of your team.
Some highlights of the ABI Member Conference:
- Mark Gorman, Senior Vice President of Government Relations at DISCUS, alerting attendees to beware of “junk science.” Unsubstantiated claims are often used to attack the alcohol and on-premise industry, often by agencies of our own government, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
- While opposition to the Federal Excise Tax has increased on Capitol Hill, alcohol tax increases are expected in as many as 14 states in 2012.
- In an unexpected twist, Robert Strassburger, Vice President of Vehicle Safety and Harmonization for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, lectured on the development of ignition interlock systems under the DADSS (Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety), launched with National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in 2008. Half of the $11 million project funding comes from the federal government. Strassburger eloquently described the painstaking development of alcohol detection devices. However, under questioning from the attendees, he backtracked on his statement that they would be set at 0.08% BAC and admitted they would be set at 0.07%, which was deemed, in essence “close enough.” Yeah, but 0.07% is not legally intoxicated....Your tax dollars at work, apparently.