I’ve written some on alcohol policy in the past (here and here) and as the director of IWF’s Women for Food Freedom project, I’m always interested in figuring out where food and beverage regulations are headed next.

It was in this spirit that I attended a three-day conference last week in Washington, DC called Alcohol Policy 16 which was billed as a conference “on the avoidance of alcohol-related problems using public policy strategies.”

Yet, it didn’t take me long to realize that this conference really wasn’t about avoiding alcohol-related problems. Rather, it was about using the hammer of the state to make Americans avoid alcohol altogether. In fact, the conference program sets the tone with a rather dramatic quote by late anti-alcohol activist Griffith Edwards who said “alcohol is in itself Evil” and “society must rid itself of alcohol.” So much for the pre-dinner cocktail hour standard at these types of Washington conferences. Bummer.

While this quote serves as a good way to sum up the conference’s overall message that any sort of alcohol consumption is bad and must be stopped through government regulations, the most telling comments came from some of the invited speakers.

During one panel discussion on strategies to regulate the marketing practices of the alcohol industry, a panelist named Dylan Mulrooney-Jones let slip the real intentions pushed by these activists.  They want you to believe they advocate regulating alcohol in order to improve public health yet, as Mulrooney-Jones said, in failing to regulate the alcohol industry, communities are “losing out on millions and millions of tax dollars.”

Public health nannies, like the speakers list at the Alcohol 16 conference, have gotten creative over the past several years.  In order to get politicians to yield to their demands, they aren’t just appealing to these politicians’ altruistic sensibilities (don’t you care about your community? Your constituents? Young kids?), they’re appealing increasingly to politician’s unquenchable thirst for cash.

Think New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is only interested in slimming down soda-loving New Yorkers? Hardly. A rarely discussed side effect of the Mayor’s (recently struck down) soda ban was that it forced consumers to purchase more than one soda (if they wanted to drink more than 16 ounces).  Double purchases mean double the sales tax revenue flowing into city coffers.  The Mayor can look like a concerned public servant all while raking in additional tax dollars. Clever!

These anti-alcohol activists are using the same tactics.  Americans should be prepared to see new alcohol taxes emerge as well as other strategies to limit their access to alcohol.  One hopes the politicians won’t be swayed by the offer of this new revenue source or the promise that these regulations will make anyone any healthier, or drink any less.