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Jewish World Review May 12, 2000/ 7 Iyar, 5760

Larry Elder

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Consumer Reports


Feds warn:
BEER CAUSES STDs -- IT'S OFFICIAL. Beer drinking causes gonorrhea!

Don't laugh. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention just released a study concluding that many young people get drunk before engaging in unprotected sex. Solution? A beer tax. The study found that a 20 cents tax increase on a six-pack of beer could reduce gonorrhea by 9 percent. If beer taxes go up, sales go down, and, says the government, so does gonorrhea.

A CDC health economist said, "Alcohol has been linked to risky sexual behavior among youth. It influences a person's judgment and they are more likely to have sex without a condom, with multiple partners or with high-risk partners." In short, when drunk, people behave stupidly. Well, duh. (How much did this study cost us?) The CDC further noted, "Other studies have linked alcohol consumption to other risky behaviors, including motor vehicle accidents and violent crime rates." Well, double-duh.

Never mind that anyone under 21 cannot legally buy beer. Why stop at a mere 20-cent per six-pack increase, since it nets only a 9 percent decrease in gonorrhea? A $2 tax should just about wipe out all STDs!

Proponents of Proposition 10, the California initiative that added a 50-cent tax per pack of cigarettes, claimed that higher prices reduce smoking. Toe-tag liberals -- true believers in cradle-to-grave big government -- love controlling behavior through the power of taxation. Of course, evidence suggests that smokers may simply purchase cigarettes tax-free on the Internet, or travel to adjacent states or to Mexico to purchase them cheaply.

For its beer tax study, the CDC apparently targeted gonorrhea because long-term statistics are available, and thus easier to research. Dr. Kathleen Irwin, chief of the CDC's health services research and evaluation, said, "This study suggests these strategies could have a significant impact in reducing sexually transmitted diseases among young people." Obviously, the folks wearing the white coats down at the CDC lack imagination. Many strategies remain untried.

Why not safety locks on beer cans? Frequently young people inadvertently consume alcohol, given the ease with which one can pop open a tab. With safety locks on beer cans, the moderately enthusiastic drinker would give up, and switch to easy-to-open alternative beverages, like milk or juice drinks that come in a box.

Has the CDC considered tiny airbags on the sides of beer mugs? Tipping the glass at a 45-degree angle triggers the airbag inflation, placing a buffer between the beer mug and the drinker's mug.

Gonorrhea in a glass?
What about a 10-day waiting period before being served? Bartenders could place a standard form on the counter, requiring those ordering beer to fill it out and return 10 days later in exchange for their brew. Sure, it might be little warm by then, but given the trade-off -- a decline in sexually transmitted disease -- who could complain?

Remember the San Francisco jury that awarded a longtime smoker over $20 million in compensatory and punitive damages? The woman began smoking after cigarette warning labels, but complained that cigarette companies concealed the true danger of smoking from the public. How long before a savvy lawyer sues Budweiser or Coors for causing the drinker to lose judgment and spread a sexually transmitted disease? Given today's atmosphere, the next time some guy gets liquored-up and engages in an unplanned act of intimacy with a woman, beer manufacturers should feel edgy.

Sure, beer cans already have warning labels concerning trivial things like driving while drunk or that the beer might adversely affect the consumers' health. Stronger labels could prevent lawsuits. How about: "Caution. Consumption of this product may cause the consumer to use poor judgment. He may engage in unprotected sex, which may cause unplanned pregnancy or may spread a sexually transmitted disease. The bottom of this can contains a condom. The can remains sealed until and unless the condom has been removed and positioned in place. Have a nice evening."

Oh, sure, the beer lobby will likely cry. Indeed, Lori Levy of the Beer Institute in Washington already began whining, "Excise taxes have little or nothing to do with alcohol abuse in society. I think our members understand the importance of educating young people about how to make responsible choices once they're old enough, and they put a lot of money and effort into those programs."

Who is she kidding? A government that allows people to exercise their own judgment, and to assume the consequences -- for ill or for good -- of their own behavior?

Next up -- a study showing that increasing the taxes by 25 cents a pack on Hostess Ding-Dongs decreases consumption by 19 percent. Encouraged by its findings, the Centers for Disease Control plans to determine the effects of beer tax hikes on other social diseases like syphilis, chlamydia, and the national addiction to "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?"

Stay tuned.

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© 2000, Creators Syndicate