Liquor ‘bait-and-switch’ could happen in Utah, too

Alcohol_bottles_photographed_while_drunkChain restaurants – including three that operate in Utah – have been charged with liquor fraud in New Jersey.

Examples of fraud ranged from filling premium-brand bottles with cheap alcohol and selling it at premium prices, to pouring dirty water into empty liquor bottles and selling it, and even selling colored rubbing alcohol as whisky.

A recent New Jersey Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control investigation known as “Operation Swill” led to a list of 29 bars and restaurants – including both local businesses and national restaurant chains – being charged with fraudulently selling liquor to their customers.

Three chain restaurants with locations in Utah – Applebee’s, Ruby Tuesday, and TGI Fridays – were on that list of liquor retailers. TGI Fridays was especially implicated, accounting for 13 of the 29 alleged fraudulent operations.

While all of these instances of alleged fraud occurred in New Jersey, this deceptive marketing practice of liquor retailers should be of concern to Utahns and Utah policymakers, especially since legislators recently passed specific legislation to encourage the kind of chain restaurants implicated in New Jersey (i.e., restaurants with full-service alcohol sales) to move to or expand in Utah. As one imbibing blogger at Slate (not exactly a right-wing author or publication) put it: “If the bait-and-switch is happening in New Jersey, it’s happening elsewhere, too.” Read more

Nothing silly or embarrassing about Utah’s liquor laws

Alcohol_bottles_photographed_while_drunkWith what can only be described as noble indifference – the new political posture of politically correct and “tolerant” Republicans – many otherwise thoughtful Utahns have gone just plain goofy over Utah liquor laws, especially the “Zion Curtain.”

Whenever Sutherland Institute publishes any argument to further regulate liquor sales and consumption, the boo-birds come out in full force – not to argue, just to mock from their perches (far away from the “embarrassment”).

Sutherland Institute continues to emphasize the cultural and educative role of liquor policy. First, liquor is a personal and societal negative. Pertaining to character, liquor never has made any human being a better person. Never. And a free society requires that we become our better selves.

Second, liquor makes human beings less free, if being truly free requires full mental faculties. A corollary is that liquor consumption by degree makes a human being less free by degree.

Third, liquor consumption impairs cognitive judgment and mechanical skills. In the wrong place at the wrong time, liquor consumption creates public safety problems.

Fourth, liquor consumed by children is harmful to the child, especially in brain development. To dismiss the ill effects on children of the outward culture of drinking as an isolated matter for parents not only displays a naiveté about the real world, it also displays a sad ignorance of the proper role of law and government in the maintenance of a free society.

Fifth, in an aggregate, a culture of drinking can exist – such as in a bar setting. In these circumstances, most policy-makers feel fully justified in regulating a culture of drinking.

The argument over the Zion Curtain is about addressing a culture of drinking in restaurants – not in an existing culture of drinking but in a culture of dining. Again, few serious people object to regulating a culture of drinking in a bar. Oddly, though, a growing number of otherwise intelligent people fail to see how they unwittingly invite this culture of drinking into non-drinking cultures, as in a restaurant. They argue in a circular fashion that we don’t need bar-like drinking regulations in a restaurant because a restaurant isn’t a bar, so why regulate drinking in restaurants? Read more

Children and the culture of drinking

bartenderIn the recently concluded legislative session, a bill was introduced and passed by the Utah House of Representatives on a 63-11 vote that would have done away with the so-called “Zion Curtain.” Wisely, the Senate stopped such poor public policy from becoming law, instead moving to study the issue over the interim. During debate on the legislation, it became clear that some policymakers do not understand the reasoning behind or need for the “Zion Curtain” policy. In an endeavor to fill in the gaps for both policymakers and the public on this issue, the following is an attempt to explain some of the basic ideas behind this unique Utah alcohol policy.

The intent of the “Zion Curtain” is to address the pervasive culture of drinking, to mitigate the influence of the growing acceptance of alcohol use among children. As an illustration of the concept of cultural impact on children, why do we adorn our houses with pictures of family, faith, and natural or artistic beauty rather than with pornographic images or pictures of illicit drugs? Read more

‘Zion Curtain’ is a matter of culture

The following post is a transcript of a 4-minute weekly radio commentary aired on several Utah radio stations:

If you were to take a tour of my home, you would immediately notice the symbols of my family’s culture. Our living room is simple and uncluttered. On its walls hang artistic representations of our Mormon heritage and our six children. More family pictures line our hallways. In fact, our entire home is filled with the symbols of faith and family.

Of all of the things we could have chosen to decorate our home environment, we chose the symbols of faith and family. We could have chosen the symbols of other cultures. We could have chosen to decorate our home with pictures of Victoria’s Secret models or with beautiful people we don’t even know. Instead, when you walk into our home you know immediately that faith and family are at the center of our culture.

We believe that culture influences our lives. The symbols of life with which we surround ourselves are stark reminders of what’s important to us. I love my wife and I don’t need a picture of my wife to inform that love. But that picture reminds me of that love. More to the point, I don’t have pictures of strangers adorning my home precisely because they remind me of nothing. Culture matters.

The 2013 session of the Utah Legislature was quiet for the most part but the issue of Utah’s liquor laws threatened to disrupt the calm. Read more

Large sodas, liquor and a free society

The following post is a transcript of a 4-minute weekly radio commentary aired on several Utah radio stations:

If you’ve ever searched for an infamous example of government overreaching its proper bounds, you need look no further than the New York City ban on “sugary drinks.” Last year, on June 12, the city’s Department of Health, through its Board of Health, and with full approval of New York’s mayor, Michael Bloomberg, issued a regulation that limits the sale of “sugary drinks” to containers no larger than 16 ounces. “Sugary drink” is defined as a carbonated or non-carbonated, nonalcoholic, sweetened drink that has greater than 25 calories per fluid 8 ounces of beverage.

Not only couldn’t a customer buy the drink, neither could she buy the cup size violating the regulation for self-service. The Board of Health voted 8-0 to adopt the new rule on September 12, 2012. A multi-party lawsuit was filed exactly one month later and the Supreme Court of the State of New York ruled to overturn the regulation just this month.

In its defense, the Board of Health argued, “There is an obesity epidemic among New York City residents which severely affects public health.” It argued, “The health of its residents affects the economics of a town, village, city, state and nation” and that “New York City … battles to maintain services in light of tough economic times. One of the fiercest budgetary fights is over Medicaid [and] Medicare.” You can start to see the picture – because of the modern welfare state and culture of entitlement it breeds, government must step in to fix us so we don’t break the budget.

And the only way for government to fix us, evidently, is to coerce us. Read more

We regulate alcohol to protect innocent lives

We often hear the question, “Why does Utah regulate and restrict the ability to sell and purchase alcoholic drinks so much?” A practical answer to that question, based on empirical research and analysis, is because doing so is good for individuals, as well as for society more broadly, because it protects innocent people from alcohol-related problems.

That was the implication gathered last week from the consensus of expert researchers on the impact of alcohol regulation. Speaking at a conference in Provo, one researcher reported that “when the price of alcohol goes up by 10 percent, there’s a corresponding 2.2 percent decrease in alcohol related diseases.” Another researcher reported that “underage drinking, alcoholism, drunk driving, alcohol-enabled domestic violence, child neglect and crime can be reduced by raising the price on alcohol. With higher prices come reduced rates of alcohol abuse and improvements in public health and safety.” Read more

Research backs up Utah’s alcohol laws, part 2: CDC recommendations


Source: CDC

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.  Read more

Drug legalization and ‘victimless crimes’


Before I’m willing to sit down and discuss innovative ways we can reform the criminalization of drugs (and any related alcohol issues in Utah), I need to make clear a fundamental perspective about human action and free will that, I think, divides many of us on these issues of “victimless crimes.”

I simply don’t believe in “victimless crimes.” And here’s why.

There are both transitive and intransitive aspects to human action. If I punch you in the face, clearly there is a transitive result – you feel the pain of my hitting you in the face. There also is an intransitive aspect to that action – my choice to hit you in the face leaves a mark on me, on my character.  Read more

Hanging out with the ‘legalize it’ crowd

“I’m surprised you’re here … actually, I’m shocked,” was the candid response when I bumped into David Nott, president of the Reason Foundation, last week at the International Drug Policy Reform Conference in Los Angeles. (Actually, it was at another meeting a few weeks earlier, hosted by Reason and run by Mr. Nott, where I got the idea to attend the drug reform conference.) So there we stood. “This is not your typical crowd,” he said politely with crushing heaps of understatement.

To give you an idea of how atypical this meeting was for me, it was sponsored by the American Civil Liberties Union, NORML (the legalize marijuana crowd), Marijuana Policy Project, Open Society Foundations (i.e., George Soros) and Students for Sensible Drug Policy, among others. The primary host was the Drug Policy Alliance, a coordinating organization with a gravitational pull to legalize everything and anything drug related. Read more

Research backs up Utah’s alcohol laws


Recently, a colleague of mine wrote a blog post about the flaws in the thinking of a group that opposes one of Utah’s alcohol laws. That blog post started an interesting dialogue on our comment board about whether data or research exists to support Utah’s alcohol control laws. Similarly, a recent local news story raised the research issue.

Certainly, what empirical research suggests about the impacts of public policy is a valid concern, so I did a little digging using Google Scholar. What I found, in short, is that a significant body of peer-reviewed scholarly research indicates that Utah’s alcohol control laws are good for Utah because they protect public health and safety. I have summarized this body of research below, organized by what alcohol control law they apply to, including studies from three research journals: (1) Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health, (2) Alcohol and Alcoholism (the official journal of the Medical Council on Alcohol), and (3) Addiction (published by the Society for the Study of Addiction to Alcohol and other Drugs). Read more