By L.A. Williams, Correspondent
Christian Action League
RALEIGH — A week after North Carolina’s top Alcohol Beverage Control official told the House Commerce Committee that “restrictions on advertising and limits on days and hours of sale are part of an effort to maintain a culture of moderation in alcohol use” one lawmaker has introduced bills that would undermine both of these needed constraints.
Clark Jenkins (D-Edgecombe) filed Senate Bill 276 to allow Spirituous Liquor Tastings at ABC stores and Senate Bill 277 to grant local ABC Boards the authority to choose whether to open their ABC stores on Sundays.
“These were bad ideas when they were suggested in prior years and they are still bad ideas that we hope our legislators will again dismiss,” said the Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League. “Already, nearly half a million North Carolinians have alcohol abuse problems without these laws that would increase access to spirituous liquor.”
While beer and wine are sold in a variety of stores and mixed drinks served for on-premise use at restaurants throughout the state, North Carolina has kept consumption rates relatively low compared to other states by, among other policies, limiting off-premise liquor sales to board-controlled ABC stores. The bill to allow liquor tastings would open the door for customers to consume alcohol on ABC store premises and would change the role of the state from one of alcohol control to active marketing.
“Up to this point, our ABC system has well-served the state, making alcoholic beverages available in areas where voters have approved them. However, letting the liquor industry use ABC to lure in customers with free drinks goes beyond providing a service to promoting alcohol sales which can only work to the detriment of our citizens’ health and our state’s economy,” Creech said. “The more people drink, the more it costs society to deal with the fallout.”
Jenkins’ bill would also change the rules regarding liquor advertising by allowing ads about the tasting events to be displayed at the store, published in print or broadcast on radio, TV or the Web. Under current law ABC stores do not advertise.
“The limits that we have on alcohol advertising are one of those things I’m afraid we won’t appreciate until they’re gone,” Creech said. “We really don’t believe most North Carolinians want our ABC stores looking like liquor stores in license states with big banners offering free samples.”
The bill would allow for a sample of 1.5 ounces per consumer per day and would take effect Oct. 1.
Even more egregious than the tasting bill would be the effects of Senate Bill 277, allowing ABC stores to open on Sunday.
“Recent studies show that increasing hours of sale by as little as two hours has been associated with increases in vehicle crash injuries, emergency room admissions and alcohol-related assault and injury,” said the Rev. Creech. “We certainly don’t want to add an additional day to the liquor sales week.”
Current law does not allow ABC stores to open on New Year’s Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Thanksgiving Day or Christmas Day and requires ABC stores to close between 9 p.m. on Saturday and 9 a.m. Monday.
“That’s just 36 hours between Saturday night and Monday morning,” said the Rev. Creech. “Doesn’t it seem logical that the people who don’t want to go even one day without buying liquor are perhaps the ones most in need of a break from its influence?”
The World Health Organization said in a 2010 report on alcohol that reducing the hours or days of sale of alcohol beverage leads to fewer alcohol-related problems, including homicides and assaults.
“Why would we want to move in the opposite direction unless we are looking for more social harm?” said the Rev. Creech. “Not to mention the economic costs. According to the Bowles Center for Alcohol Studies, the destructive and irresponsible use of alcohol and other drugs already costs North Carolina more than $6.8 billion a year.”
The Rev. Creech urged CAL supporters to let their lawmakers know, via e-mail or phone call, that they oppose ABC stores opening on Sundays and liquor tastings at ABC stores.