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Published: Sat, 24 Mar 2018 00:00:00 -0400

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Drunk History: When the Government Banned Female Bartenders

Tue, 13 Mar 2018 11:45:00 -0400

(image) "Why did it take America so long to have female bartenders?" So asks David Wondrich, author of the superb cocktail history, Imbibe!, in his latest column at The Daily Beast.

As Wondrich notes, "it wasn't about mixing drinks," since women are obviously capable of doing that. And "it wasn't about protecting the precious flower of American womanhood from the foul atmosphere of the bar," since American women have been drunkenly inhaling that atmosphere since at least the days of King George III. So "what was the taboo against barmaids about?" After a long, interesting overview of American drunk history, Wondrich settles on this thesis:

Any answer, I think, would have to be sketched out along these lines. During Colonial times, men fell into the job of tending bar, particularly in parts of the country where women were in short supply. With the diminished class system that prevailed over here, it wasn't seen as a somehow degrading or unmanly service job. It was seen for what it was, a moneymaking job with a fair amount of independence and just enough craft to earn its expert practitioners the respect of a nice-sized chunk of the populace. The more men mystified that craft part of the job by mixing up outlandish concoctions, tossing drinks between cups in long liquid arcs, dashing this and that into the glass with knowing winks, setting things on fire, so on and so forth, the more they could justify their high pay—and their exclusive possession of the job.

Surprisingly, Wondrich makes scant mention of one of the most obvious contributing factors to this sexist state of affairs. Namely, government regulators frequently banned women from working in this particular occupation. What's worse, those regulators received the blessing of the U.S. Supreme Court.

The state of Michigan, for instance, once had a law on the books forbidding women from working as bartenders unless they were "the wife or daughter of the male owner." Valentine Goesaert, who owned a bar in Dearborn, challenged the law for violating her right to tend bar at her own establishment. But the Supreme Court sided with the state. In an opinion written by progressive legal hero Justice Felix Frankfurter, the Court upheld the ban on the grounds that the judiciary owed vast deference to government regulation of economic activity.

"We cannot cross-examine either actually or argumentatively the mind of Michigan legislators nor question their motives," Justice Frankfurter wrote in Goesaert v. Cleary (1948). "We cannot give ear to the suggestion that the real impulse behind this legislation was an unchivalrous desire of male bartenders to try to monopolize the calling." Indeed, Frankfurter declared, "Michigan could, beyond question, forbid all women from working behind the bar."

Related: Government Almost Killed the Cocktail

Indiana Allows Sunday Alcohol Sales, Keeps Cold Beer Laws on Books

Wed, 07 Mar 2018 11:10:00 -0500


Indiana has repealed its ban on Sunday carry-out alcohol sales, allowing people to buy beer, wine, and liquor on the Lord's Day for the first time since 1816. From now on, Indiana residents won't be forced to shuttle across the Ohio border when they need to pick up some last-minute booze for a party, nor will anyone be reminded mid-checkout that she must forgo that bottle of Merlot until Monday.

While 10 states still prohibit the sale of liquor on Sundays, Indiana had been the only one with a statewide ban on all alcoholic beverages.

"We couldn't unlock the doors until noon," Joel Massoth, owner of Decatur Package Liquors, told WANE on Sunday. "I got here at about ten 'til, and the whole parking lot was packed. Everyone was waiting at the door wanting to be the first one to walk in. Kind of a day in history. It's pretty cool seeing all the customers excited."

But Hoosier State drinkers have many battles left to fight. For instance, Indiana remains the only state to regulate beer based on temperature. Yes, temperature: Gas stations and convenience stores aren't allowed to sell carry-out alcohol that is "iced or cooled." If you want to take some beer home that's already been chilled, you need to get it at a restaurant or a liquor store.

In 2017, the state Senate voted against the repeal of cold beer laws. Public support for repeal was high—around 61 percent, according to a Ball State study—but the Indiana Association of Beverage Retailers lobbied successfully to retain the restrictions. Worse yet, the legislature made the laws more restrictive: A convenience-store chain had added seating and fast-food service to a few of its stores, so they could obtain restaurant status and sell carry-out beer, so Indiana mandated that 60 percent of all alcohol sales must be for on-site consumption if you want that restaurant classification. Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb called that "common sense."

Yet the fight is far from settled. Shortly after he signed the bill, Gov. Holcomb was asked whether Hoosiers could expect a change in cold beer laws.

"We will cross that bridge when we come to it," the governor said.

'Keep Your Tyranny Off Our Titties,' Say New Orleans Strippers

Tue, 06 Feb 2018 08:42:00 -0500

Just in time for Mardi Gras, strippers and their allies have been taking to the New Orleans streets to protest recent police operations at French Quarter strip clubs. The investigations and raids, conducted under the pretense of stopping sex trafficking, have led to the temporary shutdown of eight clubs and are seen by many as part of the city's plans for a more gentrified Bourbon Street. "Fuck the cops and fuck the raids, all we want is to get paid," chanted some protesters last Wednesday, as Mayor Mitch Landrieu and city officials detailed Mardi Gras preparations at a press conference in the background. The raids—a joint project of the New Orleans Police Department (NOPD) and the Louisiana Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control—took place over a 10-day period in January. They were the result of months of undercover operations in late 2017. New Orleans authorities did not find evidence of underage prostitution or human trafficking, their stated reason for the investigations. The worst they turned up was some dancers offering undercover cops a little more than just a lap dance, and a few instances per club of entertainers baring their breasts or genitals. But this was enough to revoke the businesses' liquor permits, using a law that prohibits alcohol-serving establishments from "permitting any prostitute to frequent the licensed premises or to solicit patrons for prostitution." As of last Friday, four clubs (Scores, Stilettos, Rick's Sporting Saloon, and Rick's Cabaret) had reached resolutions with the state that would allow them to reopen and serve alcohol again pending a several-week suspension and a $5,000–$7,500 fine. But one club, Temptations, will have its liquor permit permanently revoked. The remaining three are scheduled for hearings this week. The closures put a lot of dancers and other club employees out of work during the city's biggest tourism season of the year. Club workers and their allies showed up during a city press conference on January 31 to protest the closures, which they said will hurt them economically and put more people at risk of violence and exploitation. "Chants of 'Let us dance!' drowning out the press conference," tweeted one attendee. The next night, hundreds showed up for a protest that wound through the streets of the French Quarter, chanting things like "Keep your tyranny off our titties" and wielding homemade signs. "You Are Making Us Suffer Not Keeping Us Safe" read one. "I May Strip My Clothes But You Stripped My Rights," said another. Other slogans included "Stop Fucking With Our Livelihood," "Closing Our Clubs Will Only Exacerbate the Sex Trafficking Problem In Our City," "Decriminalize Sex Work Now," "#BourbonStNotSesameSt," and (my personal favorite) "Twerking Class Hero." "Starting on Bourbon Street near numerous still-shuttered clubs, the protest [ended with a rally] where strippers shared stories of the hardships they've faced without work since the raids and denounced what they said is politically motivated enforcement," reported The New Orleans Advocate. They "questioned why the raids were timed at the start of Carnival and argued that a crackdown on 'vice' in the French Quarter is an attack on the business that fuels the city's tourism industry." And they criticized the city for fighting fake sex trafficking at the clubs when there were plenty of sex workers on the streets who could genuinely use some help. "While the protest largely focused on the recent raids, it also touched on other issues, including a planned City Planning Commission hearing next week on whether to cap the number of adult businesses in the Quarter, plus a state ban on strippers under the age of 21 that is being challenged in federal court," the Advocate noted. The City Planning Commission is considering a cap on the number of strip clubs allowed in the French Quarter and ways to reduce the number of existing clubs. Under the proposed motion, drafted by the New Orleans City Council last October, a new strip club could not open in the place [...]

Blame Binge Drinking for Tulane University's 2-in-5 Female Sexual Assault Rate

Mon, 05 Feb 2018 08:40:00 -0500

Tulane University has a serious rape problem, if a recent survey can be believed: Nearly 2 in 5 female students reported being sexually assaulted. If that number is indeed real, the most likely culprit would be the university's binge-drinking problem. Keep in mind that the infamous 1-in-5 statistic, which supposes that between a quarter and a fifth of female university students will become victims of sexual assault, is controversial; critics point out that the pollsters who arrived at this number often ask broad questions and count as victims people who never described themselves in such terms. Such high rates of sexual violence strike many people as self-evidently ludicrous. But Tulane, a private university in New Orleans, appears to have an even more staggeringly high sexual assault rate. I've parsed the data and found no obvious flaws—sexual assault was defined fairly unambiguously as "unwanted sexual contact," "rape," or "attempted rape." Unwanted sexual contact was further defined as "fondling, kissing, or rubbing up against a person's private areas of their body (lips, breast/chest, crotch, or butt), or removing clothing without the person's consent by incapacitation or force." Without consent was further defined as "taking advantage of me when I was too drunk or out of it to stop what was happening." What's more, the survey is extremely comprehensive: 47 percent of the school's students participated in it. According to the survey, 41 percent of undergraduate female students experienced sexual assault while at Tulane. That includes off-campus violence, and it includes violence committed during breaks and holidays. Still, it's an incredibly high number. For undergraduate men, the sexual assault rate was 18 percent. Sexual assault rates were significantly higher for LGBTQ men, 44 percent of whom experienced violence, compared with just 13 percent of straight men. Students of color were less likely to be victims than white students. In all cases, the perpetrators were overwhelmingly male students; the violence was just as likely to have occurred on campus as off. What can explain these bafflingly high rates of sexual violence? The statistics relating to alcohol abuse on campus start to suggest an answer. "Seventy-four percent (74%) of women and 87% of men who experienced any form of sexual assault reported they were incapacitated by alcohol at the time of the incident," according to the survey. Perpetrators were also more likely than not to be drinking alcohol, respondents said. How many students were drinking, and how often? Quite a lot: 43 percent of undergraduate men and 39 percent of undergraduate women reported drinking alcohol three or more times each week. That's a whole lot of 18- to 20-year-olds drinking regularly. Their consumption levels were also telling. For women, the most common number of drinks to have in one sitting was between three and six. A third of the men were consuming between seven and 11 drinks. To my mind, these numbers indicate a significant drinking problem: Many students, both male and female, are regularly and illicitly consuming copious quantities of alcohol. A few things are worth bearing in mind. First, a 120-pound woman who consumes more than three drinks in two hours is typically going to be very drunk. The same goes for a 180-pound man who consumes five drinks. Second, most of these students are under the age of 21, and thus are not allowed to drink at all. They can't drink at bars, and they are less likely to consume alcohol in the presence of authority figures. They may not know their limits very well. They might not have much experience taking care of themselves, or other people, while under the influence. Third, people who frequently drink to excess are taking risks, even of a non-sexual kind. Very drunk people impose obligations on others to take care of them. As Emily Yoffe said in the December Reason: You cannot do something to someone else's body without their permission. But when you get[...]

'Booze Equality' Bill Inches Forward for Virginia Craft Distilleries

Tue, 30 Jan 2018 12:00:00 -0500

(image) Virginia has 352 wineries, 262 breweries, and 62 distilleries. The state imposes no limits on how much oenophiles and cerevisaphiles may quaff when they visit a winery or brewery—that's up to the discretion of the folks dispensing the drinks. That is not the case for drinkers who enjoy stronger spirits. In the Cavalier Commonwealth, visitors to distilleries may imbibe a total of only 3 ounces of liquor in some combination of half-ounce tastings and 1½-ounce cocktails.

That's bad, but it's a vast improvement over the situation three years ago, when in-house sipping was limited to one and a half ounces.

Even worse, each distillery must be licensed as an ABC store. This means that distillers have to buy their own product at prices set by the ABC and then send all in-store sales receipts to the ABC Board, which returns the wholesale price back to the distilleries. The Virginia wine tax is $1.51 per gallon and the tax on beer is $0.26 per gallon. The ABC Board marks up the price for liquor sold on-site at distilleries by 69 percent. Once ABC takes its 54 percent cut of the purchase price, it ends up effectively taxing spirits at a rate of $30.88 per gallon.

Distillery lobbyist Curtis Coleburn explains in the Richmond Times-Dispatch: "When they sell a $30 bottle of booze at the distillery, about half of that's going to the state." He adds that breweries and wineries pay a dollar or less in taxes when they sell an equivalent amount of alcohol through their tasting rooms.

Earlier this month, Del. Nick Freitas (R-Culpeper) introduced a bill in the Virginia General Assembly that would establish what he calls "booze equality." Basically, the bill would repeal the ABC's high stealth tax on spirits by allowing distillers keep the profits from their on-site sales and thus put them on a more competitive footing with wineries and breweries. Officials from ABC pointed out in a hearing that this would reduce its take by $1.7 million in fiscal year 2020. Virginia distilleries employed 500 people and brought in more than $7.2 million in 2017, up nearly $1 million in 2016 and $2.2 million in 2015.

Sadly, a bill proposed by Del. Matthew Fariss (R-Campbell) that would have lifted the restrictions on how much distillers could serve visitors on-site appears to be going nowhere. The measure failed, in part, because of opposition from the restaurant lobby, which fears competition in the cocktail-serving business.

Brickbat: Women’s Temperance

Mon, 29 Jan 2018 04:00:00 -0500

(image) Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena has overturned a measure that would have allowed women to buy alcoholic beverages. A 1955 law bans women, but not men, from buying alcohol.

Science Group Calls for a National Crackdown on Booze to Achieve 'Zero' DUI Deaths

Sat, 27 Jan 2018 08:00:00 -0500

A new report issued last week by the National Academies of Sciences, Getting to Zero Alcohol-Impaired Driving Fatalities: A Comprehensive Approach to a Persistent Problem, urges a host of draconian measures in an effort to eliminate every alcohol-related driving death in the United States. The NAS report suggests that policy approaches expand dramatically from their present focus, preventing drunk driving, "to also encompass reducing drinking to the point of impairment"—the latter, in other words, targeting all drunkenness. Getting to zero, in the report's estimation, means a host of nefarious, neo-Prohibitionist approaches to alcohol regulation, including "lowering state per se laws for alcohol-impaired driving to 0.05% blood alcohol concentration (BAC) [from 0.08%, the law today in most states], preventing illegal alcohol sales to... already-intoxicated adults, strengthening regulation of alcohol marketing, and implementing policies to reduce the physical availability of alcohol." It also calls for stepped-up sobriety checkpoints, which can be constitutionally questionable. The means the report recommends to achieve its unrealistic goals are both obnoxious and intrusive. In the case of reducing the physical availability of alcohol, for example, the report recommends specifically that state and local governments restrict the number of establishments allowed to sell alcohol and reduce "the days and hours of alcohol sales[.]" Among its key recommendations, the report also calls for the federal government and state governments to "increase alcohol taxes significantly." Dr. Steven Teutsch, chair of the NAS committee that authored the report, admits that eliminating every one of America's more than 10,000 annual alcohol-related driving deaths "sounds like an overly ambitious goal." It doesn't just sound overly ambitious. The study's title, along with its stated "goal of zero alcohol-impaired driving fatalities" and most of its contents, smacks of bluster, much like previous White House efforts to end poverty or to rid America of childhood obesity—each purportedly capable of being accomplished, at the time of their announcement, "within a generation." Some members of law enforcement have voiced support for the NAS report's recommendations, particularly for reducing the blood-alcohol threshold to 0.05%. "I would agree with it," an Ohio sheriff, Larry Mincks, told the local Marietta Times, speaking of the report. "Any amount of alcohol can affect you. I'm a believer in no drinking and driving whatsoever." Bar owners disagree. "I think it's going back to the days of the prohibition," said Mary Eddy, a Marietta tavern owner. Even some law-enforcement officials are skeptical. "I'm not sure lowering the limit is an effective way to lower deaths from alcohol-related accidents," said Marietta Police Chief Rodney Hupp. "If our ultimate goals are to reduce driver impairment and maximize highway safety, we should be punishing reckless driving more consistently," wrote former Reason editor Radley Balko in an excellent 2011 article. "It shouldn't matter if it's caused by alcohol, sleep deprivation, prescription medication, text messaging, or road rage." Drunken driving is a serious problem. I support stiff penalties for those found guilty of driving drunk. But if drunk people shouldn't drive, then sober lawmakers also should not dumb down the term "drunk" so much that it loses meaning and puts anyone who's had a sip of alcohol before getting behind the wheel of a vehicle in the crosshairs of law enforcement. Despite the fact that most of the NAS committee report's recommendations are both unrealistic and potentially harmful, it's not entirely devoid of reasonable recommendations. For example, it recommends that cities expand transportation alternatives, including allowing smartphone-enabled ride sharing services like Uber. As I detailed in a 2015 column, "restricting adult [...]

3 Lessons from Prohibition, Which Started Today in 1919

Tue, 16 Jan 2018 10:30:00 -0500

On January 16, 1919, the 18th Amendment became law when five state legislatures (North Carolina, Utah, Nebraska, Missouri, and Wyoming) passed it. In the end, 46 of 48 states passed it, with only Connecticut and Rhode Island voting it down. The text of the amendment set into motion what became known as Prohibition: Section 1. After one year from the ratification of this article the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors within, the importation thereof into, or the exportation thereof from the United States and all the territory subject to the jurisdiction thereof for beverage purposes is hereby prohibited. Section 2. The Congress and the several States shall have concurrent power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation. Section 3. This article shall be inoperative unless it shall have been ratified as an amendment to the Constitution by the legislatures of the several States, as provided in the Constitution, within seven years from the date of the submission hereof to the States by the Congress. Here we are, almost 100 years later and marijuana legalization is proceeding apace, despite the efforts of the current attorney general. What lessons might we draw from Prohibition, which was repealed in 1933 with the passage of the 21st Amendment? They are many, for sure, but here are three quick takeaways worth pondering: The government gets what the government wants. Booze was already pretty much banned before the 18th Amendment and the Volstead Act (which was the law implementing Prohibition). The Wartime Prohibition Act of 1918, which banned making and selling drinks with a kick higher than 1.28 percent alcohol by volume, had been sold as a national-security measure to save grain needed to feed troops during World War I, went into effect on November 18, 1918. Note the date, by the way, which was a week after World War I ended, suggesting a slightly different lesson: The government isn't always honest about its aims. Prohibition was politically popular enough to pass a constitutional amendment. As with a lot of the rhetoric surrounding today's war on drugs, Prohibition fed off fears of foreigners, especially Catholics from southern and central Europe who had been flooding U.S. cities for decades. That beer and wine were closely associated with German Americans, relatives of our enemy in World War I, made it easier to paint drinking culture in general as un-American. Prohibition was enforced very differently, depending on who you were and where you lived. One of the great insights of Harvard historian Lisa McGirr's excellent The War on Alcohol: Prohibition and the Rise of the American State (2015) is to show that despite being the law of the land, Prohibition took vastly different forms. The state government of New York, for instance, told the feds that it didn't have the manpower to police bootlegging and speakeasies. If Washington wanted to enforce the law, they were going to have to do it themselves (as McGirr documents, Prohibition massively goosed federal law enforcement efforts, including incarceration on a mass scale; she argues convincingly that Prohibition helped create many aspects of modern federal governance). But in other areas, such as North Carolina and Virginia, Prohibition was strictly enforced at the state and local level, especially when the malefactors were immigrants, women, and blacks. If that sounds a lot like the drug war, well, it should. "The war on alcohol and the war on drugs were symbiotic campaigns," she told me in a Reason TV interview. "Those two campaigns emerged together, [and] they had the same shared...logic. Many of the same individuals were involved in both campaigns." The Federal Bureau of Narcotics was established in 1930 and employed many of the same people who worked in the Federal Bureau of Prohibition. Popular opinion—and the need for tax revenue—can overc[...]

If BYOB Is Legally Allowed at Strip Clubs, They Have a First Amendment Right to Advertise It

Fri, 22 Dec 2017 18:17:00 -0500

Under the First Amendment, the government generally can't ban commercial advertising of legal behavior. That's true for alcohol as well as for other products. (Marijuana is different, because it's still illegal under federal law.) Thus, the Supreme Court has held, the government can't ban beermakers from indicating their alcohol percentage on their bottles, and can't ban markets from promoting the prices of their alcohol. The government argued that such advertising risked increasing alcohol consumption (for instance, by promoting "strength wars" for beer), but the Court rejected that rationale.

Yesterday, in GJJM Enterprises, Inc. v. City of Atlantic City (D.N.J.), a federal district court unsurprisingly applied the same to strip clubs promoting that you can bring your own beer and wine to them (wherever such BYOB policies are legal, as they are in New Jersey). Quite correct, I think.

Holiday Cheer Means Reasonably Priced, Smuggled Booze

Tue, 19 Dec 2017 00:01:00 -0500

Keeping the old punch bowl filled can get spendy at this time of year, so you can't blame Juncheng Chen for making an epic party run to try to keep costs down. Unfortunately, officials in his home state of New York don't like it when their captive subjects drive across the border to stock up in jurisdictions where the booze prices are cheaper. They arrested him earlier this month and issued a press release about law enforcement's great blow against frugal scofflawry. "Juncheng Chen, 45, of 136-18 64th Road, Flushing, Queens, was arrested by investigators with the Tax Department's Criminal Investigations Division after his vehicle was stopped by New York State Police in Rye, NY. The vehicle was packed with 757 liters of liquor, which Chen allegedly purchased at five different liquor outlets in New Hampshire." "Alcohol-related tax evasion, as this case clearly shows, is on our radar," tutted Acting Commissioner Nonie Manion of the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance. Officials estimated they lost out on about $1,288 in liquor taxes because of Chen's shopping trip—money, that is, that the man had planned on saving himself, his friends, and his customers by making purchases in a jurisdiction where the government was less sticky-fingered. New York, as it turns out, taxes booze at $6.44 per gallon. Hefty as that sounds, that's only somewhere around the middle of the pack, as U.S. states go. But people are natural comparison shoppers, and bargains abound. "Spirits are taxed the least in Wyoming and New Hampshire, where government-run stores have set prices low enough that they are comparable to having no taxes on spirits," notes the Tax Foundation. With such a price differential at hand, why not make a long-distance party run and split the savings with some lucky customers? Well, except that state officials get pissy if they catch you. In fact, smuggling booze from lower-taxed states is quite the cottage industry in New York. "Anytime you order a cocktail or buy a bottle of liquor in New York, there's a one in four chance that the booze has been smuggled in from out of state," Crain's New York Business estimated last year. The state's claimed loss from smuggling—or, more accurately, the revenue officials anticipated but that never materialized because people went shopping across the state line—is estimated at $1.6 billion. Oddly enough, state officials do actually seem to have a clue as to why people would drive all the way from Queens to New Hampshire to purchase their seasonal cheer. "The New York State tax on liquor is relatively high compared to other forms of alcohol and to other states," the New York State Division of the Budget acknowledged in its 2011-2012 Executive Report. "The State continues to suffer tax avoidance and evasion due to the bootlegging of liquor from other states." The report raised hopes about higher fines and enforcement provisions "moderating year-over-year declines in State alcoholic beverage tax receipts." Yet here we are half a decade later, and enough people see the same potential profit that Jungchen Chen saw in making a party run to New Hampshire or elsewhere (Maryland, Delaware…) that a quarter of the booze in the Empire State is smuggled in. You'd think that New York officials might learn that lowering taxes so that prices in the state aren't so dramatically higher than elsewhere would be the best way to deter smuggling, but there's really no evidence that officials are capable of learning. After all, New York is the state that prides itself on having the highest cigarette taxes in the country ($4.35 per pack statewide, and $5.85 in New York City), but has never seemed to understand why the inevitable end result, despite rather draconian enforcement efforts, is "an estimated 56.8 percent of cigarettes consumed in the state derivi[...]

Celebrate Repeal Day With an Old Fashioned Old Fashioned

Tue, 05 Dec 2017 16:45:00 -0500

Reason features editor Peter Suderman celebrates Repeal Day with his recipe for an Old Fashioned, and explains how government almost killed the cocktail.

Video by Meredith and Austin Bragg.

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Will Cutting Taxes on Booze Actually Kill People?

Mon, 04 Dec 2017 14:15:00 -0500

Even in these divisive times, one would have thought that most Americans would raise a glass to news that the tax reform passed by the Senate last week included some sizable tax cuts for craft beer, wine, and spirits producers. But Vox, which trusts its employees with only two drinks per Christmas party, calls the cuts "a public health disaster." ThinkProgress warns of a "dramatic increase" in alcohol-related deaths. Both outlets rely on calculations from the Brookings Institution's Adam Loomey, who estimates the cuts will cost roughly 1,550 lives, including between 280 and 670 motor-vehicle deaths. "A reduction in excise taxes on alcohol," he says, "will impose a higher cost than we should be willing to pay—the loss of human life." Despite these morbid warnings, there are good reasons to doubt that we're sacrificing scores of lives for the sake of a cheaper buzz. Loomey pieces together his figures from papers that themselves piece together their findings from yet more studies looking at the effects of alcohol tax increases in countries ranging from the U.S. to Spain to Finland. These papers come to dramatically different conclusions about the effect of taxes on alcohol-related mortality. One found a doubling of taxes led to a 35 percent reduction in deaths. Another found a less than 5 percent reduction. One need not be a hardcore skeptic to believe that these aggregates of aggregates tell us little about the effects of the specific excise tax cuts before us. Parsing out what these tax cuts will look like to the end consumer makes the handwringing look even more ridiculous. Under the Senate's plan, beer producers would see the rate they pay for the first 60,000 barrels fall from $7 to $3.50 per barrel. (Producers of more than 60,000 barrels would see their per barrel excise tax fall from $18 to $16). Craft distilleries would see a much larger cut, with their rates going from $13.34 per proof gallon to $2.70 for the first 100,000 proof gallons. Those cuts might sound dramatic, but they don't stack up to much at the retail level. The excise tax on beer would fall from 2 cents per beer to 1 cent. It's the same for the harder stuff, cutting less than $2 off the cost of a craft-distilled fifth of liquor. It strains credulity to assume that saving a few pennies on a $10 six-pack will lead to otherwise sober motorists getting too drunk to survive their drive home from the bar. Likewise for knocking a few bucks off a $35 bottle of whiskey. And that's assuming the entire tax cut would be passed onto the customer. Brewers and distillers may prefer to spend it hiring more employees, raising wages for their current employees, or buying new equipment. Julie Verratti, of the Maryland-based Denizens Brewing Company, told me last month that the Senate's excise tax cut on beer would save her business $6,000, saying "that's buying kegs, that's buying tanks, that's paying our employees higher wages." Despite the overwrought claims of the nanny-staters, allowing small businesses like Verratti's keep more of the money they earn does not have to come at the expense of thousands of lives.[...]

As Anniversary of End of Prohibition Nears, State Alcohol Rules Challenged

Sat, 02 Dec 2017 08:00:00 -0500

Next week will mark the 84th anniversary of the ratification of the Twenty-First Amendment, which repealed alcohol Prohibition. The repeal of Prohibition is worth celebrating, even if the amendment was (and remains) a deeply flawed vehicle. The chief flaw with the Amendment is, as I wrote earlier this year, that it "simply shifted much of the power to prohibit and incessantly regulate alcohol from the federal government to the states." States have truly made the most of their teetotalitarian authority for decades, to the detriment of both alcohol producers and—much more so—consumers. Much of the negative impacts of states' approach to alcohol regulation can be tied to what's known as the three-tier system, a Prohibition relic under which states generally prohibit direct alcohol sales from a brewer, vintner, or distiller to a consumer. The three-tier system mandates these alcohol producers first sell to a distributor or retailer—a mandatory middleman—who can then sell to actual drinkers. Laws that require this approach create a host of problems, including, for one, that they drive up consumer costs dramatically and needlessly. States' plenary control over alcohol has been controversial for decades, as this 1987 article in the Journal of Public Health Policy makes clear, noting that "the idea of a government monopoly of a consumer product seems odd and even bizarre[.]" Great arguments in favor of scrapping the dreaded three-tier system are often countered by those who claim doing so will bring about the end of days, or worse. As Jacob Sullum (who's more often than not right) noted in a 2015 piece, the apocalyptic scenarios floated by neo-Prohibitionists often make little sense, and tend to contradict each another. "The current system must be maintained because it makes drinking easier, and it must be maintained because it makes drinking harder," Sullum wrote, characterizing two central and diametrically opposing arguments in favor of maintaining state liquor monopolies. States with some form of liquor monopolies—there are currently seventeen of them—actually have their own lobby group, the National Alcohol Beverage Control Association. They're big supporters of monopoly "control." For example, the group notes that "citizens of Montgomery County, MD enjoy the many benefits offered by a control jurisdiction." I lived in Montgomery County for several years. At no point did I enjoy the county's monopoly, which restricted my choices. Washington State, where I now live, was the first state to rid itself of the three-tier system, after voters overturned the system in 2011. Not much appears different in Washington State today on its face. Each of the three tiers still exist. But alcohol rules here—enforced by the same government body that also now regulates cannabis in the state—no longer force all producers, distributors, and sellers to work together. They can—and do, in most cases—because they want to. As I've noted previously—as in this 2013 column—state alcohol regulations are generally trending in the right direction. For example, Indiana is currently taking baby steps to legalize Sunday alcohol sales. An Alcohol Code Revision Commission (yes, that's a thing) has proposed allowing some Sunday sales between noon and 8 p.m. The state isn't always the direct beneficiary of monopoly powers. Sometimes the state grants such powers to one powerful segment of the marketplace. But those laws, too, are falling out of favor. Next year, for example, Oklahoma will end a "virtual monopoly" on many sales enjoyed by liquor stores in the state. State alcohol monopolies are by no means a uniquely American problem. Take Canada, where laws often bar residents from bringing alcohol from one province t[...]

Tax Reform Would Make Getting Trashed Cheaper

Tue, 21 Nov 2017 14:35:00 -0500


In the Britschgi household, Thanksgiving means a big family meal with copious libations. If Senate Republicans have their way, the libations will be much cheaper.

Amidst its more controversial changes, the Senate's tax reform bill includes a provision slashing taxes and streamlining regulations for the nation's brewers, vintners, and distillers.

"That would have a huge impact on our business," says Julie Verratti, co-founder of Denizens Brewing Company, a craft brewer in Silver Springs, Maryland. "Any type of alleviation is huge for us."

Currently, the feds put a $7 tax on the first 60,000 barrels a brewery produces. This would be rolled back to $3.50. The bill would also cut the tax rate for a brewer's first six million barrels of beer from $18 to $16.

Lowering the federal excise tax on those first 60,000 barrels would save brewers an estimated $37.5 million per year, according to the Brewers Association.

For small breweries like Denizens—which produces roughly 1,700 barrels a year—that would be substantial and welcome tax relief.

Verratti estimates that halving the federal excise tax would save her business about $6,000 a year, no insignificant sum for a small business. "That's buying kegs, that's buying tanks, that's paying our employees higher wages," she tells Reason.

Distilleries also have stiff tax cuts coming their way.

Right now, makers of the strong stuff pay a federal excise tax of $13.50 on every gallon of distilled spirits. The Senate bill would cut this to $2.70 per gallon for the first 100,000 gallons, and then $13.34 for every subsequent gallon up to 22.1 million gallons.

Winemakers would see some of the rates they pay pruned back as well. Low-alcohol sparkling wines and meads would see their taxes cut by nearly 70 percent, from $3.30 down to $1.07.

The bill also includes some welcome regulatory changes, such as simplified bookkeeping requirement and easier tax-free transportation of booze between breweries and distilleries, a change that would make collaboration on new brews and batches easier.

These changes were initially submitted by Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) as a stand-alone alcohol reform bill back in January. Proving that nothing brings people together like a stiff drink, their Craft Modernization and Tax Reform Act had attracted 46 co-sponsors by the summer recess. A companion bill in the House chalked up 252 co-sponsors by the same time.

The bill was rolled into the Senate's tax reform legislation earlier this month.

An ideal federal tax code would be one of broad bases and low rates. That would preclude a bizarre web of differing beverage tax rates depending on type, alcohol content, and, in the case of wine, level of carbonization. These do not go away under the Senate tax bill. But as long as libertarian dreams of a flat tax, fair tax, or even no taxes are a far-off fantasy, cheaper booze sounds like a pretty good stopgap measure.

Public Health Nannies Want to Stop You From Boozing. Why? Because Cancer

Thu, 09 Nov 2017 15:45:00 -0500

The great thing about modern epidemiology is that you can find multiple studies to justify just about any public health policy you happen to favor. If you have a bias, there is plenty of confirming evidence from which to cherry pick. Now come the doyens of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) with their statement on alcohol and cancer. ASCO cites research estimating "3.5 percent of all cancer deaths are attributable to drinking alcohol" in the United States. That would mean some 21,000 of the 596,000 Americans who died of cancer in 2016 were killed by cancers associated with alcohol consumption. In comparison, smoking tobacco is estimated to cause 32 percent of all cancer deaths (about 120,000 deaths). Drinking booze is specifically associated with oropharyngeal and larynx cancer, esophageal cancer, hepatocellular carcinoma, breast cancer, and colon cancer. The group treats consuming alcohol as a pure public health problem to which the only solutions are various forms of prohibition. They recommend regulating alcohol outlet density; increasing alcohol taxes and prices; maintaining limits on days and hours of sale; enhancing enforcement of laws prohibiting sales to minors; restricting youth exposure to advertising of alcoholic beverages; and resisting further privatization of retail alcohol sales in communities with current government control. ASCO tells only part of the story about the health effects of drinking beer, wine, and spirits. There appear to be plenty of studies that find hard drinking increases an individual's risk of cancer. But the devil is in the cherry picking. Lots of research finds light to moderate drinking involves a trade-off between a slightly higher risk of cancer and significantly lower risk of cardiovascular disease. Of course, the folks at ASCO are aware of this issue. In an attempt to deal with it, the ASCO statement cites a line of research that argues that "the benefit of alcohol consumption on cardiovascular health likely has been overstated." For example, one 2005 study referenced by ASCO warned that due to confounding effects, "nonrandomized studies about the health effects of moderate drinking should be interpreted with caution." As far as I can tell, the ASCO statement itself cites meta-analyses of mostly nonrandomized studies in support of its claims that drinking alcohol causes cancer. Gander, meet sauce. Claims for the cardiovascular benefits of moderate alcohol consumption remain somewhat controversial. That being said, a huge new meta-analysis in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology (JACC) probing the relationship of alcohol consumption to all-cause, cardiovascular, and cancer-related mortality in U.S. adults finds significant health benefits from light to moderate drinking. To some extent there is a trade-off between reduced cardiovascular risks and higher cancer risks. The JACC researchers subdivided drinkers into six groups: lifetime abstainers, lifetime infrequent drinkers, former drinkers, and light drinkers (fewer than 3 drinks per week), moderate drinkers (more than 3 and less than 14 drinks per week for men and less than 7 for women), or heavy drinkers (more than 14 per week for men and more than7 for women). Binge drinking was defined as five or more drinks on one or more days per week. ASCO asserted that "even modest use of alcohol may increase cancer risk." However, Medscape reports of the JACC study that "light and moderate alcohol intake predicted reduced all-cause, cardiovascular, and cancer mortalities in both men and women." That's right, light to moderate drinkers not only had lower risks of dying from any cause or from cardiovascular diseases, but also lower risks [...]