The movie “Field of Dreams” produced a notion that has embedded itself firmly in the American psyche:

“If you build it, they will come.”

Research has consistently shown that is the case with facilities that sell alcoholic beverages. The more stores there are, the more alcohol that is sold — with its attendant increase in drunken driving, underage consumption, addiction and crime.

But a national deregulation movement that some say has been promulgated by the alcohol industry has taken hold in some states and is being pushed in others.

Deregulation may make sense in fields like energy, because the resulting competition leads to lower prices. But lower alcohol prices will spawn more alcohol consumption. Is that really what we want?

Good grief, we could end up like Britain, according to Pamela S. Erickson, a national leader in the fight against excess access to alcohol.
The United Kingdom is an example of what can happen in a totally deregulated environment, she said.

“Today alcohol is available in bars, clubs and grocery stores 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” Erickson said. “They have little regulation, poor enforcement and lots of cheap alcohol. The also have an alcohol epidemic on their hands.”

Four large grocery chains control 75 percent of the market, Erickson said. Most use alcohol as a loss leader, as they engage in price wars.

“Drinking at home has increased,” she said.

And there has been a large increase in public disorder crimes around bars — vomiting, urination, fights and vandalism.

“England has a drinking problem,” wrote Tim Heffernan in the November-December issue of Washington Monthly.

“Since 1990, teenage alcohol consumption has doubled. Since World War II, alcohol intake for the population as a whole has doubled, with a third of that increase occurring since just 1995. The United Kingdom has very high rates of binge and heavy drinking, with the average Brit consuming the equivalent of nearly 10 liters of pure ethanol per year,” Heffernan wrote.

The United States is in comparatively better shape.

“A third of the country does not drink, and teenage drinking is at a historic low,” Heffernan wrote. “The rate of alcohol use among seniors in high school has fallen 25 percentage points since 1980. Glassing is something that happens in movies, not at the corner bar.

“Why has the United States, so similar to Great Britain in everything from language to pop culture trends, managed to avoid the huge spike of alcohol abuse that has gripped the UK? The reasons are many, but one stands out above all: the market in Great Britain is rigged to foster excessive alcohol consumption in ways it is not in the United States — at least not yet.”

One state currently considering deregulation, Michigan, has good control of the industry, said Mike Tobias, executive director of Michigan Alcohol Policy Promoting Health and Safety. Michigan’s system of regulations has succeeded in helping reduce problems related to alcohol use.

Since 1997, underage drinking has declined significantly as measured by the Michigan Youth Risk Behavior Survey.

The number of Michigan teens who had used alcohol was 68.8 percent in 2009, down from 81.9 percent in 1997 and below the national average of 72.5 percent.

Alcohol use before the age of 13 was 18.8 percent in 2009, down from 34.9 percent in 1997, and lower than the national average of 21.1 percent.

Binge drinking among teens affected 23.2 percent of them in 2009, down from 32.4 percent in 1997 and below the national average of 24.2 percent.

With statistics like these, why would Michigan want to change its approach with legislation that would diminish verification requirements for alcohol license applicants, increase the number of resort liquor licenses and allow beer to be shipped directly to consumers? Why would any state?

Source: The Reporter

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