Looser alcohol laws: a losing proposition


Take a moment and go through a quick thought experiment with me. Let’s say the Utah Association of Snake Oil Businesses came to your community and asked that you loosen regulations on selling legal forms of snake oil. The reason, according to the business association, is that their preferred type of snake oil, which your community’s laws make hard to sell, promises to make a lot of money for snake oil businesses and will produce jobs in the community. Sounds good, right? I mean, who doesn’t want more jobs?

But in researching the issue, you and your community discover that this brand of snake oil also impairs people’s abilities to think rationally and make good judgments, and is associated with higher levels of crime when used in large amounts. Further, you learn that it can lead to significant health problems over time and is especially harmful when used by children.

Would you want the leaders in your community to change its snake oil laws?

Most responsible citizens in Utah would probably answer “no” to this question. Why? Because reasonable people understand that there are some things in life – such as the health, safety and well-being of themselves, their families and others in their community – that are more important than money.

As it turns out, this “hypothetical” isn’t so hypothetical after all. In fact, Utah’s pro-alcohol lobby has pushed state policymakers for years to loosen or repeal laws designed to restrict over-consumption of alcohol and underage drinking so they can make more money from selling alcohol (what they call “economic development”).

Heavy alcohol consumption, of course, like the hypothetical snake oil, impairs rational thinking/judgment and is associated with violent crime and poses significant health risks. If children consume alcohol, it can be extremely damaging to their health and development. And further research has shown that drinking alcohol is costly to society, including harmful effects on families, employment and the economy (see here, here and here).

Those who wring their hands at or scratch their heads because of Utah’s alcohol laws, since more drinking means more “economic development,” should remember this important fact: Alcohol laws are about more than money.