Jewish World Review Oct. 27, 2004 / 12 Mar-Cheshvan 5765

Lewis A. Fein

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Consumer Reports

Intoxicated by death | In an act of illogic and political manipulation, the hard liquor industry wants the nation to accept a sick brand of "equivalency," wherein one drink of beer, wine or a cocktail allegedly contains the same amount of alcohol. Having the public accept these rules has profound implications, confusing individuals and deliberately misguiding the government. Thankfully, most legislators refuse to endorse this nonsense; and it is time for the hard liquor industry to give up this misleading ghost. A few basic questions should put things in their proper perspective.

Ever wonder why your parents' liquor cabinet was locked, that it almost always exclusively contained hard liquor and not beer, which was easily accessible from the kitchen refrigerator? Put aside those teenage memories of clandestine parties and furtive sips of vodka or whiskey or gin, and consider the previous question and its obvious effects: If there is no difference between beer and hard liquor, how come the family patriarch never has a highball in his hand while he grills hot dogs and hamburgers for his children at some local barbecue? Or why do sports fans never seem to cheer a touchdown or home run with a frosty cup of 100-proof grain alcohol? Because hard liquor can be - and the recent casualties among college campuses prove this - a deadly substance.

Make no mistake, I am not a prohibitionist; and I genuinely loathe an intrusive federal government that seeks to limit, if not criminalize, self-regarding behavior. But I also want truth in advertising and common sense, an understanding that when it comes to regulation and taxation, certain products are simply different from, and significantly more harmful than, others. After all, there is a reason - a very good reason - the family liquor cabinet is locked and hidden -- it can have lethal consequences! And, as a former college student myself (one who certainly tried beer, alcohol and wine), I know there is a profound distinction between, say, a light beer and the quite palpable intensity of hard liquor. I mention my own collegiate exploits -admittedly modest, to be sure - to make a larger point about a serious problem: from California to Colorado to Illinois to Indiana to Ohio and beyond, each year college students die from highly lethal amounts of hard liquor.

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Again, I respect - and will vigorously defend - an adult's right to enjoy any number of legal privileges. I cannot, however, abide deception, the notion that all drinks containing alcohol are the same. It is simply outrageous for liquor companies to suggest, and for watchdog organizations to blindly accept, equivalency standards that make no distinction between beer versus wine versus a drink mixed with hard liquor. How can Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) and the National Consumers League make equivalency respectable, when the facts - the taste, concentration and effects of hard liquor - all disprove any equivalency between a can of beer and a Martini? Any purported similarity is part of a dangerous disinformation campaign. In the end, alcohol equivalency - moral, scientific or otherwise - has no place at the table of serious conversation. To argue the contrary is to deny reality.

I know too many parents who have seen a son or daughter foolishly accept the myth about hard liquor, that it is sweetness with a kick. Each year, including this one, we see tragic examples of this uninformed mindset. We need common sense on this issue, not slick advertising and ambiguous language from the hard liquor industry and their friends at MADD. Let us hope the government does not yield before this alluring foe.

JWR contributor Lewis A. Fein is a writer and Internet entrepreneur in Los Angeles. Comment by clicking here.


© 2004, Lewis A. Fein