Longwell: The new Prohibition
Source: Richmond Times Dispatch
By: SARAH LONGWELL
Published: October 13, 2011
Ken Burns' new documentary, "Prohibition," is a big hit for PBS - almost 4 million viewers tuned in last week to see America's premier documentarian tell the tale of a time when Americans had to know a secret knock just to get an after-work cocktail.
What viewers might not realize is that prohibitionists are alive and well today. Decades after the repeal of the 18th Amendment, busybody activists are pursuing policies to make it more difficult for consumers to drink socially and urging governments to use every tool in their sheds to cut down on casual alcohol consumption.
Groups like the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, Alcohol Justice, and the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), among others, are all pursuing misguided policies to make it more difficult for you - the law-abiding grownup - to responsibly enjoy alcoholic beverages.
Policies such as higher alcohol taxes, sobriety checkpoints, lower legal drunken-driving thresholds, restrictions on Sunday sales, alcohol advertising bans, and initiatives to put alcohol-sensing devices in all cars as original equipment are touted as solutions to problems such as underage drinking, alcoholism and drunken driving.
But in reality these laws aren't about curbing alcohol abuses; they're part of a neo-prohibitionist effort to restrict the consumption of alcohol no matter how moderate.
Responsible use of alcohol remains an integral part of American culture. According to annual polls conducted by Gallup, between 62 and 66 percent of American adults consume at least a moderate amount of alcohol every year. Yet despite the popularity and reported health benefits of moderate and responsible alcohol consumption, these activist groups wish to marginalize social drinkers and treat alcohol as an illegal drug.
As Burns points out in his documentary, anti-alcohol hysteria created many disastrous, unintended consequences during the Prohibition era. Modern prohibitionists aren't faring any better.
Take sobriety checkpoints, for example, where police officers set up random roadblocks and check every driver who comes through to see if they've been drinking. Groups such as MADD claim that roadblocks promote traffic safety, but they may actually be making our streets more dangerous. Ask any police officer standing at a sobriety roadblock which catches more drunken drivers, checkpoints or roving police patrols. The cop will tell you, perhaps grudgingly, patrols are far and away the best means of getting dangerous drunks off the road, not costly and intrusive checkpoints.
And then there's the ever-popular alcohol tax, a favorite of revenue-starved state legislatures. We know two things about alcohol tax increases: They do nothing to deter problem drinking (the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism reported tax increases have no effect on the heaviest 5 percent of drinkers) and they cost Americans in the already vulnerable hospitality industry jobs.
Last year, representatives from around the world voted to endorse the World Health Organization's "global strategy to reduce the harmful use of alcohol," including a recommendation that governments ban alcohol advertisements. Under the smokescreen that these advertisements are designed to appeal to teens, they want to get all ads off the airwaves, despite the fact that the Department of Health and Human Services found that alcohol ads have no effect on consumption. Market research has shown that limits on alcohol advertisements don't affect overall alcohol use, just the brands and types of alcohol consumers choose to drink.
And there's not room enough in these pages to outline all of the problems with the very-much-under-way efforts to install all new cars with sophisticated alcohol-detection devices that would likely prevent the car from starting if the driver has had even a small amount of alcohol.
By repealing Prohibition, Americans chose to reverse the only constitutional amendment ever enacted that restricted our individual rights. Yet activists continue to look for new ways to limit or ban alcohol consumption. While they may be unable to ban the production and sale of alcohol outright, the new prohibitionists want to make it harder to enjoy social drinking.
Ken Burns' new documentary is a must-see for those who believe the adage that "those who forget history are doomed to repeat it."
Sarah Longwell is the managing director of the American Beverage Institute in Washington, D.C., an association of restaurants committed to the responsible serving of adult beverages. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.