It turns out Utah’s “backward” alcohol laws are not so backward – they’re right in line with recommendations issued by a task force newly formed by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
In the fall, I explained how scholarly and empirical research indicates that Utah’s alcohol control laws are good for Utah because they protect public health and safety. These recommendations supporting that position come from a source sponsored by the federal government, no less.[pullquote]Utah…is doing exactly what a government that cares most about the public health and safety of its residents should be doing.[/pullquote]
The CDC recently established the Community Preventive Services Task Force, an “independent, nonfederal, uncompensated body of public health and prevention experts, whose members are appointed by the Director of CDC.” The Task Force issues annual reports to Congress and the public summarizing scholarly research on public health issues and giving policy recommendations based on that research.
The Task Force’s online “alcohol” section recommends the following as effective policies for preventing excessive alcohol consumption and the accompanying negative economic, social and health outcomes: (1) making bar owners and staff legally responsible for harms inflicted by their customers; (2) increasing alcohol taxes; (3) limiting the days on which alcohol can legally be sold; (4) restricting the hours of the day in which alcohol can legally be sold; and (5) preventing bars and other alcohol retailers from locating too close to each other.
If these policies sound familiar, it’s because they all exist here in Utah in one form or another. Utah is, in fact, a policy leader in alcohol regulation – and it is doing exactly what a government that cares most about the public health and safety of its residents should be doing.
Further, the Task Force recommends against privatizing retail alcohol sales of alcoholic beverages, based on a review of a dozen research studies spanning almost 20 years, because it increases excessive drinking. This latter recommendation is particularly noteworthy, given the interest by some Utah policymakers in privatizing Utah’s liquor stores.
In the end, it seems that the debate surrounding Utah’s alcohol control laws may really be a debate about what social values are most important: public health and safety, or making money and “having a good time.”