By Benita M. Dodd
This Independence Day weekend, as you’re getting ready to celebrate the nation’s independence with fireworks, barbecue and beer, spare a thought for beleaguered beer drinkers in the State of Independence. They’re citing the alphabet. As in ABC and CDC.
Pennsylvania, the “State of Independence,” allows no independence in the sale of beer, wine and liquor, issuing all permits and operating some 600 Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) stores under some of the toughest, inconvenient and unusual laws in the nation. And the CDC is in on the game.
The governor is trying to privatize the sale of alcohol. It’s easy to understand the opposition of the liquor store clerks union and the Pennsylvania Beer Alliance: the store clerks’ jobs would be privatized, too. The Beer Alliance – beer wholesalers licensed by the state Liquor Control Board to purchase and sell as importing distributors – don’t like the competition opened up by the prospect of more licenses being sold.
But what business does the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have in voicing opposition? When did the CDC get into the liquor store business?
An April article in the Philadelphia Inquirer cited the CDC’s Community Preventive Services Task Force, which claims that privatizing liquor sales cause a steep increase in consumption.
The 15-member task force is described as “an independent, nonfederal, unpaid panel of public health and prevention experts that provides evidence-based findings and recommendations about community preventive services, programs, and policies to improve health.”
It’s no surprise the task force is described in a Weekly Standard headline this month as, “The New Prohibitionists: The taxpayer-funded Obamacare temperance league.” On its Web page, the task force recommendations include fewer sales hours, higher taxes and opposing privatization, all in the name of “public health effects.”
Last we checked, Prohibition ended in 1933 and consumption of adult beverages by adults is legal.
Specifically, the task force “recommends against the further privatization of alcohol sales in settings with current government control of retail sales. This finding is based on strong evidence that privatization results in increased per capita alcohol consumption, a well-established proxy for excessive consumption.”
What is the evidence? “Overall, there was a 44.4 percent median increase in per capita sales of privatized alcoholic beverages within the jurisdiction that underwent privatization during the years following privatization of retail alcohol sales.” And – gasp – there was “a decrease in sales of nonprivatized alcoholic beverages within the jurisdiction that underwent privatization.”
It’s “misleading and useless in the Pennsylvania privatization discussions,” to cite the 44.4 percent estimate, maintains Dr. Raymond Scalettar, a clinical professor at the George Washington University Medical Center and former chair of the American Medical Association – and, disclaimer here – a medical adviser to the Distilled Spirits Council.
In an op-ed in the Philadelphia Inquirer, Scalettar notes, “The 44 percent figure was derived by analyzing 17 studies that looked at the impact privatization had on the privatized beverage. The 44 percent growth is not an estimate of total alcohol consumption, nor is it an estimate of alcohol-related harms. Of the 17 studies studied, six showed no increase in consumption and four showed only moderate increases.” The game-changer in the task force review and recommendation is that the popularity of wine soared: Between 1970 and 1980, wine sales in the United States climbed 85 percent and per capita wine consumption climbed 66 percent.
Further, the task force “found no pattern of alcohol-related harm in the studies it analyzed,” Scalettar points out.
If there is no alcohol-related harm, what business is it of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention?
Apparently, according to the Weekly Standard, the CDC interference has much to do with the social engineering agenda in ObamaCare. Specifically, writer Mark Hemingway points out, billions of dollars are available in grants to “organizations that are pushing the CDC’s questionable political agenda. For instance, the CDC’s Community Transformation Grant program fact sheet states the program is ‘funded by the Affordable Care Act’s Prevention and Public Health Fund.’ According to the CDC’s Web site, grants are available to ‘spread community-wide change’ by ‘support[ing] state, local and Tribal Nation implementation and enforcement of alcohol control policies.’”
Montgomery further notes: “According to the CDC, ‘examples may include … reducing the density of retail alcohol outlets.’ In plain English, the CDC’s model grant recipient is someone who wants to lobby for stricter local zoning laws for alcohol sales, never mind that federal grant monies are not supposed to be used for lobbying.”
We’ve opined before about the mission creep of government agencies. Is there any clearer reason for the CDC to stick to fact-based health policy and allow Pennsylvania to open the market instead of inconveniencing consumers?
Meanwhile, Pennsylvania’s Independence Day celebrations require planning ahead: The state liquor board declared all ABC stores closed on July Fourth.
Benita M. Dodd is vice president of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation (www.georgiapolicy.org), an independent think tank that proposes market-oriented approaches to public policy to improve the lives of Georgians. Nothing written here is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation or as an attempt to aid or hinder the passage of any bill before the U.S. Congress or the Georgia Legislature.
© Georgia Public Policy Foundation (July 3, 2013). Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided the author and her affiliations are cited.