Beverage industry builds alcohol policy “war chest”
NEW YORK–The battle lines have been clearly drawn in the war on alcohol abuse: On one side stand the so-called “neo-prohibitionists” who advocate the stringently enforced “control-ofavailability” approach to the selling and dispensing of alcoholic beverage; on the other side are liquor distillers, vintners, importers, bar, restaurant and tavern owners, and affiliated businesses which espouse educational initiatives to reduce alcohol-related accidents and abuse.
To help shape public policy regarding alcohol control, strengthen its position and protect its financial interests, the alcoholic beverage industry has just contributed approximately $150,000 to the Washington, D.C.-based Alcohol Policy Council. The APC was founded over two years ago as a nonprofit organization “dedicated to a strategy of education and information in addressing alcohol misuse problems, according to its president, Gas Hewlett.
“We believe that the heavy and harsh controls proposed by advocates of the ‘control-of-availability’ theory would be counterproductive over the long-term to the prevention of alcohol related problems,” said Hewlett.
Peter Barton Hutt, general counsel for the Food and Drug Administration from 1971 to 1975 and now a private attorney, said he believes “you can’t deal with alcoholism on a control basis, you must do it on a public policy basis. I see this controversy splitting the industry and doing great harm.”
The opposing faction are, of course, joined in battle over hotly debated stawte dram shop laws. Under dram shop, on the books in 19 states and the District of Columbia, a commercial establishment which sells or serves alcoholic beverages to an obviously or apparently inebriated customer or minor is monetarily liable for damages resulting from an ensuing accident. The innocent third party injured “in person, property, means of support or otherwise” by the drunken individual can sue the restaurant, tavern, or liquor store owner and/or employees for dispensing the alcohol.
Neo-prohibitionists believe the onus of responsibility is on the dispenser or seller of alcohol; the APC and its sympathizers argue the patron should be held ultimately accountable for his drunken actions, not those who sold or served him the alcohol.
The APC’s objectives are three-fold: To attract peripheral organizations which share its views and those of its alcoholic beverage industry contributors; to become recognized nationaly as a responsible and serious organization and to take the lead role in organizing and orchestrating the second North American Congress on Alcohol and Drug Problems. The first conference, held in 1974, was designed to seek appropriate public policies to reduce alcohol and drug abuse.
The APC hopes to raise a minimum $300,000 this year, two-thirds from the alcoholic beverage industry and the remaining third from pharmaceutical companies, other industry foundations and alcoholic treatment networks, said Hewlett.
“If they [Neo-prohibitionists] have their way, the availability of wine, spirits, and beer will be limited by raising taxes, restricting advertising, requiring warning labels, reducing the number of retail outlets and shortening store hours,” said a spokesman for a leading distiller.
Added HEwlett, “There is more need now for responsible alcoholism-interest-grops than at any time in history.”
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