Is the price of liquor privatization really death?

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Liquor on the shelves at a State Store. AKIRA SUWA / Staff Photographer

Death.

Pure and simple.

That’s what the United Food and Commercial Workers Wine and Spirits Council is implying will happen if we privatize alcohol sales in Pennsylvania.

Through a new video produced by Strategic Communications Consultants of Blue Bell, PA, which represent s a long list of unions, we’re told that “Thanks to current laws, and the effectiveness of the wine and spirits stores employees, Pennsylvania has the lowest death rate associated with alcohol consumption in the nation.”

But is that claim true?

To answer that question, I shared the video with David McCorkle, who is the President and CEO of the Pennsylvania Food Merchants Association, a statewide trade association representing supermarkets and convenience stores. His initial reaction? “This is obviously an ad intended to stir the emotions of the people viewing it.” His opinion about the accuracy of the study referenced in this commercial? “The study did not, in any way, correlate this type of sales system we have in Pennsylvania to those illnesses or to other social indicators like traffic accidents or traffic fatalities. As I view it, there is no validity to this ad,” adding, “Our highway fatalities rate is 35th out of 50 states when it’s alcohol related.”

Hmmm. But wait. The union is saying PA is the safest state. Which one is it?

McCorkle pointed me to the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry, who issued a press release disputing the claims made by the union. In it, the Chamber says, “In reality, Pennsylvania doesn’t have the lowest rate of drunk-driving fatalities; the state’s rate is actually higher than the national average. Mothers Against Drunk Drivers ranks Pennsylvania among the 15th worst states for DUI safety, with 34 states ranked better. In addition, according to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, Pennsylvania ranks worse than the national average in underage drinking, binge drinking and underage binge drinking. The union commercial references CDC stats on alcohol-induced deaths, which includes liver disease and alcohol poisoning, not DUI-related traffic fatalities.”

 Harry R. Levin, a North Wales, PA attorney who specializes in DUI defense, concurred. “The commercial shows no association between the death rate from DUIs and the state store’s involvement. The ones against privatization are grasping at straws.”

 So since the facts don’t appear to be supporting the commercial’s claims, I wondered whether the video was simply as a scare tactic?

Why not ask that to someone who was a UFCW union member?

Erin O’Connor, a former ACME Markets cashier and UFCW dues-paying member, was more than happy to oblige:  “The video gives the impression that current liquor store employees can influence customers driving habits after drinking, which is completely false. Clerks do not have any influence on customers once they walk out the door. The communication between clerk and customer ends when the customer exits the store.”

“I support liquor store privatization in Pennsylvania. The state government should be enforcing liquor laws -- not marketing and selling alcohol,” said O’Connor, who now serves as the elected Tax Collector for the Borough of Downingtown in Chester County, adding, “Pennsylvania taxpayers will greatly benefit from the revenue of selling the liquor stores.” 

 Contact John Featherman at john@featherman.com

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