Not liquor; control business

Published 12:00 am Saturday, January 19, 2013

By Joe Godfrey

A reported plan to introduce legislation that would privatize the Alcohol Beverage Control (ABC) stores in Alabama fails to consider several important facts. Legislators are to be commended for their desire to cut spending on the state level, especially during these difficult economic times, but cutting time-tested controls on alcohol use and abuse may end up costing the state more money, not less. After the repeal of Prohibition, states were given the authority to regulate, control and limit the flow of alcoholic beverages due to the mind-altering and addictive nature of the drug. Alabama’s leaders at the time wisely decided to establish the Alcohol Beverage Control Board in order to implement such regulations for the benefit and safety of Alabama’s citizens.

The most significant result of the ABC Board’s work has been that Alabama ranks 48th in per capita consumption of alcohol per adult, and 1st in total revenue per gallon sold according to published reports from the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States (DISCUS). As citizens of Alabama do not drink as much, the agency receives more revenue per gallon of spirits sold. In this and several similar reports, control states (as opposed to licensure, or privatized, states) consistently rank highest in revenues and lowest in consumption among the 50 United States. On average, consumption rates in control states are 14 percent less for spirits and 7 percent less for all alcohol products than privatized states. [“The Effects of

Privatization of Alcohol Control Systems,” William Kerr, PhD, Alcohol Research Group for the National Alcohol Beverage Control Association]

Other factors to consider include the following: In non-control states with privatized alcohol sales…

• There is an increase in outlet density. Even if the proposed law limited outlet density, there would be an annual battle in the State Legislature with attempts to expand those outlet limitations.

“Big Alcohol” would be continually pushing for fewer restrictions and seeking to get legislators elected who would sympathize with their position.

• There are increased hours of sale. ABC stores have fixed hours of operation and are staffed by well-trained employees. Once liquor sales are controlled by private retailers, you can expect them to remain open for longer hours. However, according to a published report in the December 2010 issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, longer hours of liquor sales results in an increase in motor vehicle crashes, as well as other related harmful results.

• There is an increase in advertising and promotion. Studies have shown that youth are especially susceptible to alcohol ads. According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, “the degree of youth alcohol advertising exposure is strongly and directly associated with intentions to drink, age of drinking onset, prevalence of drinking and the amount consumed.” [“Alcohol Advertising and Youth,” ©2012,, American Academy of Family Physicians]

• Studies have consistently concluded that a state-controlled alcohol distribution system such as the system Alabama has in place reduces the harms associated with alcohol abuse by promoting responsible distribution and consumption of alcohol.

Some legislators have argued that Alabama “needs to get out of the liquor business.” What the citizens of Alabama need to understand is that the state is NOT in the liquor business, but it is in the Alcohol Beverage CONTROL business. Alcohol in not an ordinary commodity; it is the number one abused drug in the nation. Controlling an addictive drug, as alcohol is, has economic and social benefits that far outweigh any perceived financial savings that may or may not come to the state.


Godfrey is the Executive Director of the Alabama Citizens Action Program (ALCAP)