Global Alcohol Police

It’s probably safe to assume that you enjoy the services of your local barkeep rather more than that of a malarial mosquito. But should a cadre of public health bureaucrats in Geneva have their way bartenders might soon surpass the disease-spreading bloodsucker on public health’s most wanted list.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has set its sights on your pint glass, deciding that alcohol belongs alongside AIDS and influenza as a critical global medical issue, and that combating alcohol abuse requires harsh new restrictions on even the most moderate of drinkers.

Representatives from countries around the world voted on a resolution to formally endorse the recommendations below as part of WHO’s “global strategy to reduce the harmful use of alcohol.”

Their prescription includes a regimen of: higher taxes, a low legal limit for drivers, restricted availability of beer, wine and spirits, more police roadblocks, giving police power to force all drivers to take breathalyzer tests and the elimination of drink promotions. These are draconian policy recommendations that would impact the vast majority of American adults.

WHO wants to radically raise the price of alcohol through higher taxes even though most people – more than 90 percent of the consuming public, according to data from the National Institutes of Health – are responsible drinkers. Other WHO recommendations are shockingly intrusive such as “random breath-testing.” This provision would give police the power to force all drivers to submit to breathalyzer tests without probable cause at sobriety checkpoints.

The Fourth Amendment’s prohibition on unreasonable searches was nice while it lasted.
These new police powers are especially pernicious given that WHO is also pushing for a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) arrest level that is lower than the current standard in all 50 states. If these reforms come to pass, police across the country could wind up filling their jails with people who had a single glass of wine at dinner.

Having international support for lowering the legal BAC for drunk driving to .05 would be good news for those involved in the movement to put alcohol detectors in all cars (If you’re scratching your head, visit to learn about this campaign). Once alcohol detection technology is ready for deployment in all vehicles, it will have to be set lower than .08 for a host of physiological and legal reasons. If .05 is already in the works, this movement will be met with less resistance.

But this strategy misses the forest for the trees. The average BAC for a drunk driver killed in an accident in 2008 was .19. That’s more than twice the current legal limit. Lowering it will do nothing to address the problem of hard-core drunk drivers.

And you can forget about blowing off steam after work with a brew. WHO’s strategy calls for “banning or restricting the use of direct and indirect price promotions, discount sales, sales below cost and flat rates.” In other words, happy hours will be a little less happy—if they exist at all.

WHO doesn’t even want you to think about consuming alcohol. WHO’s options are so overly broad that television ads for beer would conceivably be verboten under the new regime, meaning the adventures of The Most Interesting Man in the World could come to an end and the Budweiser Clydesdales could be put out to pasture.

What’s driving activists? Some see the behavior of a small subset of problem drinkers as such a pervasive problem that heavy-handed restrictions on all drinkers are justified. Others are modern day prohibitionists. Both are misguided.

They’re ignoring alcohol’s positive effects. As Harvard has noted, “for most moderate drinkers, alcohol has overall health benefits.” Economically, WHO’s changes would also wreak havoc on America’s still-struggling economy: Higher taxes and more onerous police restrictions would cost thousands of jobs in industries from restaurants to hotels as people are priced out—or scared away—from drinking.

The biggest problem with WHO’s plan is its failure to differentiate between responsible drinkers and dangerous alcoholics. The overwhelming majority of Americans who drink do so responsibly. Alcohol abuse, while serious whenever it occurs, isn’t an issue for an agency that should be concerning itself with contagious diseases.

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