While this week marks the 80th anniversary of the repeal of Prohibition, Americans may not realize that prohibitionists are alive and well today.
Eight decades after the repeal of the 18th Amendment, 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 National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), 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 law-abiding grownups to responsibly enjoy alcoholic beverages.
Policies such as lowering the legal drunk-driving limit to .05, higher alcohol taxes, sobriety checkpoints, 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.
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.
Earlier this year, the NTSB pushed to lower the national drunk driving threshold from .08 to .05 percent — the level some women can reach after just one drink. While more than 70 percent of drunk driving fatalities are caused by drivers with BACs of .15 or higher, the NTSB is advocating a limit so stringent it will discourage individuals from ordering a single drink if they are driving home.
And then there’s the ever-popular alcohol tax, a favorite of revenue-starved (and spend-happy) 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.
The World Health Organization’s “global strategy to reduce the harmful use of alcohol” includes 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. 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.
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.
Sarah Longwell is the managing director of the American Beverage Institute, an association of restaurants. www.thenewprohibition.com