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Florida: Changing liquor law would be bad for public health

Florida: Changing liquor law would be bad for public health


Source: Tallahassee Democrat

Bruce Grant

April 5, 2015


Some laws are better left alone — such as the Florida law that restricts hard liquor sales to a store that primarily sells liquor. The same law requires customers to enter through a separate door, thereby limiting access to minors. Minors entering a liquor store immediately stand out from customers of legal age; this intimidates minors, who realize everyone is watching them and results in fewer sales to youth.


Under Senate Bill 468, Wal-Mart and other large retailers would be able to place liquor directly on their shelves – right next to all their other non-addictive merchandise like diapers, video games or groceries. This would allow access to underage employees, some as young as 16. Not smart to increase alcohol availability while the ranks of those charged to enforce alcohol regulations and prevent underage sales have been decimated.


Existing laws regulating alcohol work. They achieve a healthy balance in business practices that keep prices moderate – not too low to push consumption, not too high to push bootlegging or theft. The regulations make spirits reasonably available, prohibit over-the-top promotions that foster heavy consumption and strictly control sales to minors.


Alcohol is not just another product line. It is intoxicating and addictive, particularly so when used by those underage. Business and marketing practices – perfectly legitimate for selling other commodities – may cause social harm when alcohol is being sold.


There is no compelling reason to change the law. Profits are high and most consumers go to multiple stores when they shop. Nobody’s complaining about having a hard time buying hard liquor. The first consideration for any change in alcohol regulation should be its impact on public health and safety, not customer convenience.


So what’s the real agenda? Money. The Wall Street Journal reported on July 8, 2014, “Wal-Mart has said that it aims to double its alcohol sales by 2016.” To make more money, the box stores want to implement what amounts to a major cultural shift in how and where alcohol is sold at the expense of the rest of us – and our kids.


SB 468 will lower costs, increase access and availability. “Convenience” will begin an unraveling of over 100 years of laws and cultural norms that work. It will make it harder for community prevention efforts and for parents to be a wall between their kids and alcohol.


This is a case of what is good for business is not good public policy. Current alcohol regulations work. Let’s not put profits ahead of public health and safety.


Bruce Grant was the director of the Florida Office of Drug Control and now serves on the board of the Florida Coalition Alliance.