By Rev. Mark Creech
Christian Action League
August 15, 2019
Monday, July 29th, Gov. Roy Cooper signed into law the most extensive reform of North Carolina’s alcohol policies since the repeal of Prohibition. Lawmakers, The Retail Merchants Association, the John Locke Foundation, and high profile members of the alcohol industry lauded the measure and celebrated it.
However, the bill, SB 290 – ABC Regulatory Reform, was nothing to celebrate for those who are deeply concerned about preserving strong policies that minimize alcohol-related harms.
Diane Riibe, a North Carolina resident and the former executive director of the U.S. Alcohol Policy Alliance and a 25-year veteran of alcohol policy work, said that in the quarter-century of alcohol policy work she had done, she had never seen a state “take on this level of pulverization of the current system.”
“It is as though every single provision looked at what the science was and said, ‘we’ll do differently than that,’” Riibe added. “The result will be very clear, make no mistake about it.”
Although numerous bad provisions were ultimately amended out the legislation, what was left was atrocious.
This article is the second installment in a series in which the Christian Action League intends to point out the outrageous things the legislation now allows. The objective of these articles has nothing to do with ‘sour grapes,” but everything to do with getting concerned Citizen Christians to confront their lawmakers about bills of this kind.
Last time, I wrote about the way the bill removed the restriction that distilleries could only sell five bottles of their product to each customer annually. SB 290 now allows distilleries to have unlimited sales of their products.
In Part 2, let’s consider the way the new law requires the ABC Commission to modify the rule on deeper discounts for beer or wine by membership card or coupon from 25% to 35%.
This is not an innocuous change.
Numerous are the studies which have concluded that any time appealing advertising is teamed with offering a discount on alcohol sales, consumption levels dangerously rise. Not only should there be concern about the way the new law puts people with addiction problems at risk, but there should also be concern about its potential for exacerbating the issues of underage drinking and college binge drinking rates.
The North Carolina ABC Commission rejected this request via petition by the North Carolina Retail Merchants Association in 2006. At that time, the Commission received correspondence from some of the most respected names in public health and alcohol policy.
Those names included: Kim Miller, Manager of Federal Relations and head of the alcohol policies project of the Center for Science in the Public Interest in Washington D.C.; Dan Ireland, Executive Director of the American Council on Alcohol Problems in Birmingham, Alabama; Cynthia Moreno Tuohy, Executive Director of the National Association of Alcohol Drug Addiction Counselors in Alexandria. Virginia; Dr. John C. Nelson, who up until 2006 was the President of the American Medical Association; Henry Wechsler, Director of the College Alcohol Study of the Harvard School of Public Health; Barbara Alvarez Martin, a former member of the 2005 North Carolina Governor’s Task Force on Driving While Impaired, and also formerly director of the NC Initiative to Reduce Underage Drinking; Dr. Philip Cook, a renowned economist and a Terry Sanford Professor of Public Policy at Duke University; and Darrell Jernigan, Director of the Governor’s Highway Safety Program – all vigorously opposed this proposal.
Even former First Lady, Mary Easley, who was at that time, the national co-chair for the Leadership to Keep Children Alcohol Free weighed in on the matter.
She wrote: “Many retailers argue that, if clerks are following the law consumers who are under the legal drinking age will not benefit from these discounts. This is not true. Seventy percent of youth report obtaining alcohol from a person they know who is over 21 and who would use these discounts. Public health advocates agree that a decrease in alcohol price will affect alcohol availability to minors and compound the many challenges facing law enforcement, educators, counselors and state and local leaders who are working tirelessly to reduce and prevent underage drinking in our communities…Alcohol is already currently available at almost every turn at the grocery, convenience, or drug store aisle and consumers can easily find a six-pack of beer or bottle of wine priced lower than some brands of sodas or bottled water. In addition, alcohol advertising has saturated our society to the point where our children can name more brands of beer than they can American presidents. Why do we need to give consumers one more incentive to purchase a product associated with so many risk and harmful consequences?”
The arguments made against deeper discount practices of alcoholic beverages are as pertinent today as ever. North Carolina’s problems with underage drinking are still quite severe.