Utah Booze Lobby AD: How NOT to Win Friends and Influence Legislators

Reaction to ad about Utah alcohol lawsThe ad tried to be edgy, provocative, and attention-getting. Too bad it was also offensive and lame.

That’s why The Deseret News refused to run it.

The ad, put together by the American Beverage Institute, sought to gin up opposition to the recent lowering of the state’s DUI limit to .05 BAC.  It shows four long-in-the-tooth state senators who voted for the law, and suggests that, since older people are by definition impaired drivers, then they should also be arrested for DWO (Driving While Older).


Background: the American Beverage Institute is a group that lobbies for more relaxed alcohol laws, on behalf of distillers, wineries, brewers, and the establishments that sell alcohol. The idea is that tougher laws mean people buy less alcohol on a night out, for fear of ending up in jail. They oppose shorter bar hours, ignition interlocks, and alcohol taxes – all measures which are known to reduce drunk driving.

That is, of course, the very reason the alcohol laws are passed, but that’s another issue.

What matters is the tone-deafness of this approach. Older drivers were not amused. Whether or not that is the reason that the Utah legislature will not be revisiting the bill anytime soon, the ad has proved to be a setback.

Those with a logical bent note that the ad is saying, “older drivers are dangerous. So let’s put more impaired drivers on the road to keep them company.”  That’s what happens when satire isn’t thought through.

Profit Motive vs Public Safety

The fact is a great many Utahans are fine with the bill. Some people do think it is too strict, but that does not mean they believe that tourism will tank in the state (and there has been no indication of that yet) because of it.  It’s clear that the opposition flames are being fanned by those whose only motive is selling more drinks to people, regardless of where they end up at the end of the night.

It’s the responsibility of legislators, and voters, to worry about where people end up at the end of the night.  Maybe alcohol laws like this will save lives, maybe not. A year or so will tell us what we need to know. In the meantime, we hope the debate can continue without the need to insult senior citizens in the process.