Commentary | Why does booze get a pass?

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Written by: Richard Dawahare

Why does booze get a pass? Alcohol is a deceiver at best, a life-destroyer at worst and a depressant at all times in between. It is the third leading preventable cause of death and contributes to 200 diseases and injury-related health condB9317500575Z.1_20150527114931_000_GSQATIT0R.1-0itions.

And, unlike tobacco, alcohol consumption can cause direct, immediate and often irreversible harm to others. Booze-related injuries and death from drunk driving, domestic violence, assault, and child abuse and neglect — including fetal alcohol syndrome — happen daily. It wrecks families, destroys relationships, and dampens job performance.

For far too many of us, alcohol is a soul-sapping drain on our physical, psychological and spiritual welfare. It is every bit as harmful as tobacco and in many ways worse.

But instead of treating it as the viper it truly is we coddle it, even idolize it. This is especially true in Kentucky, where the wedding of bourbon with our collective welfare has left a trail befitting the French monarchy that shares its name.

So esteemed is alcohol that this very paper has fallen under its intoxicating spell. Why was the Pappy Van Winkle heist ever a news story to begin with? Some hooch was stolen, big deal. The amount stolen was a thimble compared to the amount lost to shoplifting by a typical multi-store retailer.

What needs to change, what must change is the culture. Instead of putting the world’s most abused drug on a pedestal we should be doing the opposite. Booze is bad. Period. And I say this as a consumer of spirits myself; I am far from being a saint. But the message is true and cannot wait for a person of purity to deliver it.

Nationally, alcohol needs to be regulated just like tobacco. All television and radio advertising for alcoholic products should be prohibited. Studies prove that young people exposed to such marketing are more likely to start drinking, or if already drinking to drink more. For others, while the link between advertising and excessive drinking is harder to prove, there is absolutely no doubt that such slick promotion creates a pro-booze culture.

Billions in Madison Avenue marketing has given alcohol the Good Housekeeping seal of approval that it should never have had. The Food and Drug Administration must untether itself from the alcohol lobby and regulate it as the drug it most certainly is.

The World Health Organization’s Global Status Report on Alcohol and Health 2014 lists several excellent suggestions for combating the ravages of alcohol, including the promotion of alcohol-free venues, lowering the number of outlets, reducing serving hours, and municipal policies discouraging alcohol use.

alcohol2Good luck with this in towns like Louisville, who trumpet every opportunity to tipple. Unwittingly or not, local leaders promote the booze culture on the promise of economic development.

But this is very flawed. First, over-consumption leads to lower productivity and higher costs. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention excessive alcohol use results in more than $224 billion in economic costs each year.

Most important, promoting a wholesome, alcohol-free, community-building, soul-lifting culture will create more short- and long-term economic and human benefit than any amount of supposed booze-related commerce.

Richard Dawahare is an attorney in Lexington, Ky.

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