Utah lawmakers make rare tour of state-run liquor store

Bottles of wine are displayed during a tour of a state liquor store Thursday in Salt Lake City. Utah lawmakers toured a state liquor store and warehouse as critics say Utah's alcohol control agency needs more money and stores to meet the demand from residents. 

Regulation of tobacco and alcohol in Utah this week took a few turns that distinguish Utah apart from the rest of the country.

Utah already has fairly restrictive alcohol laws, with 3.2 percent alcohol per weight beer being the law across the state. This means breweries both small and large that want to sell in Utah have to keep their alcohol at lower levels than the usual, which is around 4.8 percent across the country. Beer with higher alcohol levels must be sold in the state liquor stores.

Sen. Jerry Stevenson, R-Layton, is making a push this legislative session to increase the weight to 4.8 percent, which would be, as he said, more in line with the bulk of commercially produced brews.

Senate Bill 132 will also allow more products back onto shelves as big breweries like Budweiser have chosen to not take the time brewing the weaker beer. This means a six-pack of Budweiser may return to store shelves, taking pressure off the state-run liquor stores.

But this week, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints issued a statement against Stevenson’s bill, opposing raising the ceiling on Utah’s beer.

This comes as a surprise to no one.

But this goes to show that the might of the LDS Church in Utah extends beyond the chapels. This is not to demean the excellent charitable giving or service members of the church yield to others, nor to debase the faith of church members.

But we sincerely question the intent of the church issuing a statement whenever something in the state Legislature may go against the church’s teachings. Recall how the church came out against Proposition 2 just months before last Election Day, nearly derailing the entire campaign push for medical marijuana, which polls showed that the majority of Utahns were for.

We recognize that 90 percent of Utah legislators are members of the church. But we also expect Utah to not operate as a theocracy.

We believe that if consumers who imbibe in alcohol want regular beer, they should not have to scour their state liquor stores which are often limited in location, in deplorable repair and often over-crowded.

By keeping the alcohol content of beer low, we believe it restricts free enterprise, something most Utah legislators would argue is near and dear to our economy. Limiting beer sales to only those brewers that actually want to make the lower alcohol variants, restricts market entry and product availability.

We don’t believe that keeping Utah’s beer at 3.2 alcohol by weight is beneficial to the residents of Utah and we do not appreciate that the separation of church and state blurs so heavily every legislative session.

This also goes to show that legislation should be sensible when restricting these lifestyles that some argue are dangerous to health. Take for example what Lehi City Council did this week in raising the legal age of tobacco purchase from 19 to 21. It is the only Utah city to do so.

This also applies to e-cigarette products and chewing tobacco.

Lehi council members state that this is an effort to curb teen vaping and early tobacco exposure.

Teenagers can drive about 10 minutes and leave Lehi city limits to get tobacco products in adjoining cities, but Lehi is hoping to be an example for other cities to raise the age of legal tobacco purchase to 21. Aislynn Tolman-Hill with the Utah County Health Department even said Orem is examining similar city legislation.

According to an Associated Press article published Monday, “cigarette smoking rates have stopped falling among U.S. kids, and health officials believe youth vaping is responsible.”

Though e-cigarette companies claim that vaping is an alternative or even cessation tool for cigarette smoking, the same AP article claimed that 40 percent of high school students who vaped did so in combination with another tobacco product, commonly cigarettes.

Vaping has experienced a booming popularity, and much of it is because of its marketability to younger audiences. Bubble gum and other candy-like flavors deliberately entice and attract younger demographics. Health officials worry these younger vapers will transition to tobacco smokers.

Smoking is still the No. 1 cause of preventable illnesses in the U.S., attributing to 480,000 deaths each year, according to the CDC.

We agree with Lehi City Councilman Johnny Revill that if the legal age to drink is 21, so should be the legal age to smoke. We hope other cities follow Lehi’s example.

We recognize that our argument of the two subjects may be a bit dichotomous, but we disagree. We believe that regulation of the alcohol percentage in beer and alcohol makes Utah politicians the moral police. A 1.6 percent increase in alcohol by weight will not turn those who drink into enraged alcoholics, especially for the many who drink responsibly. Utah has already taken measures on responsible drinking by implementing the reduced legal BAC percentage this year.

But teen vaping and exposure to tobacco and nicotine is a crisis across the nation that must be acted upon. This involves lives.

We would rather our local politicians help protect the lives of Utah’s youth than focus on the alcohol volume of your can of Bud Light.

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