Show of hands? How many times did you drink alcohol when you were under age? Did you ever get busted? What about driving with a little bit of a buzz? We’ve all been there. You go out to dinner and have an extra glass of wine but since you’re not going to be driving that far anyway it doesn’t matter, right?
If you were driving in El Salvador while under the influence, it could kill you. Not just from the potential of an accident but actually getting arrested for a DUI. A first time offense could come with the death penalty. Sounds a bit extreme but there are plenty of arcane liquor laws still on the books here and abroad. Are they doing what they were originally intended to do, or is it one of those things everyone ignores with a wink and a nod? Consider these laws currently on the books:
Utah Zion Curtain
Many bizarre liquor laws can trace their roots back several decades and sometimes even a century. Utah’s “Zion Curtain Law” goes all the way back to 2009. Okay, so not that far back in history. It states that any restaurant opened after 2009 has to pour their drinks behind a pane of frosted glass. This is the so-called Zion Curtain. The idea is to not offend non-drinkers or stir up longings for booze in teens that might be in the restaurant. So, it’s okay to actually drink those cocktails, you just can’t see them being mixed because that would be bad.
In Pennsylvania, if you want to buy wine or liquor, your only option would be one of the 600 state-run liquor stores. It’s the only place to get your booze. Don’t even try to buy liquor from outside the state and bring it in. That’s against the law too. Recently, a Philly wine aficionado was slapped with fines and had his collection of 2,447 bottles of fine wine confiscated. The wine fan also happens to be a lawyer so naturally he sued the state. The result was that he was allowed to keep 1,000 bottles (worth around $150K) but the rest have to be dumped out. Can you say, “Prohibition?”
Beer Soup Nebraska
According to recent surveys, microbreweries make up around 11% of the beer market and that number keeps ticking up. If you happen to be operating one of those microbreweries in Nebraska, you better have some good soup recipes, too. A Nebraska law holds that a bar can’t serve beer unless they are also cooking a batch of soup. This harkens back to a time when it was thought that drinking on an empty stomach gets you more buzzed. Makes sense, but there isn’t a law forcing people to eat the soup.
Every connoisseur of whiskey knows the finest bourbons come from Kentucky. Too bad if you’re a Kentuckian and live in one of the 39 countries that are “dry.” These would be places that prohibit all sales of alcohol. That often includes counties where the distilleries are up and running. Thankfully, some smarter heads have prevailed and created the “historic loophole.” This allows distilleries to sell their concoctions on-site along the Bourbon Trail. It takes a lot of effort for the locals to sample the home brew.
If the Quakers of Pennsylvania set the tone for that state’s liquor laws, then you can thank the Puritans of Massachusetts for all their statewide restrictions. Here’s how one portion of the state law reads:
No licensee or employee or agent of a licensee shall encourage or permit, on the licensed premises, any game or contest that involves drinking or awarding of drinks as prizes.
So much for beer pong. But the state also has restrictions on drink specials and bans happy hour all together. Plus, the supermarkets who sell beer and wine can only do so in limited areas. In other words, if a grocery chain has twenty stores, only a handful can sell booze.
Around the World
Don’t think that America holds sway over byzantine liquor laws. There are plenty of spots around the world where you could run afoul of the local law enforcement. In Scotland, if you’re drunk, then you can’t be in possession of a cow. It’s amazing how often that scenario pops up. In Bolivia, if you’re a married woman, then you can only have one glass of wine at a bar or restaurant. Guess who that law doesn’t apply to? Men. In Malaysia, if a man gets caught drunk driving, both he and his wife can go to jail. Talk about spousal support.
It’s clear that many of these laws are just downright insane, especially in areas that actively promote liquor sales such as Las Vegas or New Orleans. Still, there is every reason to believe that common sense laws like age restrictions do have an impact where it matters the most: on young drivers.
The National Center for Health Statistics data reveals that in 2013, there were 1,700 fatalities of 15 to 20 year-olds directly related to motor vehicle accidents. Of that number, at least one third can be attributed to alcohol-related incidents. Although that is a decrease from 2012, it is still way too much.
Building on that data, the Pediatric Academic Societies gathered a team of researchers from Harvard Medical School to conduct a study about the impact of alcohol restrictions on the occurrence of drunken driving related deaths. It should come as no surprise that states with the stronger laws had fewer deaths. Of course, this is not the only study to draw the same conclusions. Many of the laws that are meant to curb alcohol consumption in adults result in decreases in underage drinking levels as well.
“In fact, policies targeting the overall population of adults and youth — policies like taxes, limits on hours and locations of sales, and strict rules on drinking and driving for everyone, not just youth — appeared to be the most protective,” said lead author Dr. Scott Hadland to Medical Daily.
This Spot’s For You
Beyond the liquor laws that limit drinking hours and who can buy liquor, there are also restrictions on advertising. Before the government stepped in as they did with cigarette television ads, the alcohol industry stepped up with their own version of a “no-buy list.” This is why you won’t see an ad for Bud during Sponge Bob Square Pants. Still, even with the self-imposed industry restrictions, some researchers think that over the course of their young lives, kids are exposed to alcohol ads upwards of 15 billion times, collectively. That is a lot of exposure for that can generate the idea that “drinking is fun.”
Start Them Young
On the other end of the restriction spectrum is anthropology professor Dwight Heath of Brown University. He thinks the legal drinking age should be around 8. This doesn’t mean he wants to see eight-year-olds riding up to a liquor store on their Big Wheel to pick up a Forty. Instead, he has conducted studies and written about the cultural model of consumption that happens in countries like France or Italy, where parents will often serve the youngsters wine during family meals. Heath thinks this practice demystifies the allure of alcohol. Having grown up in Europe, I can attest to this mentality.
“In general, the younger people start to drink the safer they are,” said to Heath to CNN. “When introduced early, alcohol has no mystique. It’s no big deal. By contrast, where it’s banned until age 21, there’s something of the ‘forbidden fruit’ syndrome.”
Most countries around the world, with the exception of America, have the legal drinking age set at 18, with places like Denmark and Germany allowing 16-year-olds to buy beer and wine. Perhaps there is something to be found in that demystifying approach. It’s hard to imagine someone binge drinking if they’ve grown up with wine all their lives.
As with all things in life, it might just come down to a question of moderation and personal responsibility. Do we really need laws to tell us we shouldn’t be drinking around the clock? (Las Vegas excluded.) How out of control are our kids that we don’t know what they’re up to? Remember back to when you were a teen. Sooner or later, kids are going to have a drink. It’s the foundation that parents provide for taking responsibility that could determine if that is one drink or dozens.