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State Alcohol Administrators Slam Alcohol Justice

You probably knew that each state has some form of an ABC, an alcohol control organization that after Prohibition was created to administer their state’s laws regarding alcohol. Not surprisingly, they also have an organization where the professionals in these state organizations can get together and share information, how they do things, and generally learn from and help one another be better at their jobs. It’s called the National Conference of State Liquor Administrators, or NCSLA. Their stated purpose is:

The purposes of the Association shall be to promote the enactment of the most effective and equitable types of state alcoholic beverage control laws; to devise and promote the use of methods which provide the best enforcement of the particular alcoholic beverage control laws in each state; to work for the adoption of uniform laws insofar as they may be practicable; to promote harmony with the federal government in its administration of the Federal Alcohol Administration Act; and to strive for harmony in the administration of the alcoholic beverage control laws among the several states.

They have an annual convention where they get together, along with other events throughout the year. Also, in addition to the obvious members, it’s also open to distributors, suppliers, retailers, law firms, health organizations and anyone else with an interest in the administration of alcohol at the state and federal level.

Well. Earlier this week, Alcohol Justice posted a press release entitled Big Alcohol Dominates Alcohol Regulator Meeting, which touted an article in the new edition of the journal Addiction that they claim “Documents Unhealthy Influence of Alcohol Industry over State Regulators.” Not surprisingly, the author of the article, Sarah M. Mart, is the Director of Research for Alcohol Justice. So they created the propaganda, then promote it is as if it’s news and/or impartial information and it’s not surprising that it just happens to support their agenda. Is the concept of a self-fulfilling prophecy lost on them?

In this case, the article, Top priorities for alcohol regulators in the United States: protecting public health or the alcohol industry?, purports to examine the “NCSLA Annual Meeting [that] took place 20–24 June 2010 in New Orleans, Louisiana.” Smart claims as a “finding” that “[m]ore than two-thirds (72.2%) of the 187 conference attendees were from alcohol producers, importers, wholesalers, retailers or their attorneys. Nearly two-thirds (65.0%) of the 40 panelists were from the alcohol industry. The author of this paper was the only attendee, and the only panelist, representing public health policy.”

In the press release, Alcohol Justice spins it this way.

In a peer-reviewed article in the February 2012 issue of Addiction, Sarah Mart, director of research at Alcohol Justice, has documented the alcohol industry’s excessive involvement in a 2010 annual conference of state liquor administrators.

“With alcohol use being the third leading preventable cause of death in the U.S, you would think state regulator meetings would focus on the most effective and cost-effective ways to reduce alcohol-related harm,” stated Mart. “But this event was really about the industry’s agenda.”

Mart’s article details her experience at the annual National Conference of State Liquor Administrators (NCSLA), which took place in June 2010. More than two-thirds (72%) of the 187 meeting attendees, and 65% of the panelists, were from the alcohol industry. The rest represented state alcohol control systems and federal government agencies. Mart was the only participant representing public health policy.

“The NCSLA is dominated by the global companies that produce, import, distribute and sell alcohol,” said Mart. “Not surprisingly, the Association’s liquor control agenda lacks public health considerations.”

On average, 79,000 deaths annually are attributed to alcohol consumption. In 2005, there were over 1.6 million hospitalizations and 4 million emergency room visits for alcohol-related causes. Alcohol-related costs to state budgets are staggering, yet this trade organization of state regulators, which could play an important role in reducing the harm, has no stated position supporting public health.

“Big Alcohol panelists actually sent regulators a warning message: Be industry-friendly. Don’t rock the boat of commerce with public health concerns, or your job may be on the line,” reported Mart. “The Federal officials that were present also spoke about supporting the industry, instead of protecting public safety. That was a disappointment.”

Sounds bad, right? Well, the NCSLA sees it a different way. They’ve now responded with their own press release telling the other side of this story.

NCSLA, The Inclusive Crucible Of Alcohol Policy Issues, Dismayed By Inaccuracies Of “Sour Grapes”

When requested to comment on the recent press release from an entity named “Alcohol Justice”(formerly known as The Marin Institute), NCSLA President William A. Kelley, Jr. today said,

“The National Conference of State Liquor Administrators (“NCSLA”) has for decades been the only organization of the 50 states with the sole clear, transparent and inclusive purpose of effectively controlling alcoholic beverages. That purpose cannot be effective without input from all interested parties. Indeed since this Nation was founded, the fundamental principle of American government has been to make decisions with the consent of the governed. That requires substantive communication with and consideration of the concerns and competing interests of those who would be subject to regulatory action by the federal and state government. This is the hallmark of a real democracy.

The NCSLA is dismayed at the conduct of any organization which has chosen to re-brand itself and seeks to create relevance for its new brand by pandering for headlines, while taking no real, affirmative action to support and defend the federal and state beverage alcohol regulators in the executive, judicial and legislative branches of state and federal government. These federal and state regulators stand alone as they fulfill their lawful obligations to strike a balance between the protection of the common good and the service of the public demand for the different sorts of alcoholic beverages made available by this legitimate, responsible industry.

The agenda of self-promotion by “Alcohol Justice” is obvious and unavailing. The telling fact is that the now re-branded entity formerly known Marin Institute has repeatedly chosen not to become a member of the NCSLA despite the numerous invitations that have been extended to them and the years of courtesies from the NCSLA they have enjoyed in the form of expense-paid attendance at NCSLA conferences and participation on NCSLA panels. It is equally telling that this statement comes when further special treatment has been denied this re-branded entity while at the same time it was directly invited and encouraged to join the NCSLA, take a seat at the proverbial table, but on the same terms as those long met by other public health and public advocacy groups. It is disheartening when any entity with substantial financial resources, yet without the economic hardships endured for years by state beverage alcohol regulators, appears content to do nothing.

The silence of this re-branded entity is deafening in the national dialogue that continues as Congress, The President of the United States, the people of the state of Washington and the representatives of the people in all the 50 states grapple with the modern issues of beverage alcohol control. This struggle is the American legacy of that failed experiment named “Prohibition.”

I look forward to the honor of leading the NCSLA when it convenes in Washington D.C. to continue its efforts in fostering principles and techniques of balanced alcoholic beverages control. Unfortunately it appears that this re-branded entity chooses to continue to sit on the sidelines in its complacency, fermenting in its sour grapes. Perhaps sometime soon the reality will be recognized that much is expected from those who are given much.”

Nicely said, Mr. Kelley. Nicely said.

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