Liquor store union ad campaign raises questions

There's a good chance you've heard a commercial running on Harrisburg radio stations, but it's mostly intended for the ears of lawmakers who are mulling liquor privatization.

Many listeners come away with the impression it's an advertisement put forth by Mothers Against Drunk Driving after hearing this, “This reckless scheme will put alcohol on every street corner and increase crime. Mothers Against Drunk Drivers opposes this scheme and so should we.”

The sentence is repeated twice during the short spot.

“They're scare tactics. They're over the top and ridiculous,” said Nate Benefield of the Commonwealth Foundation, which is a strong supporter of liquor store privatization.

Benefield says the ad prominently mentions Mothers Against Drunk Driving but less prominently – a quick disclaimer at the beginning of the commercial – mentions it's paid for by the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, which represents liquor store workers.

“It's a special interest group who's running this ad, an interest group that benefits from keeping the government monopoly, so they're trying to scare people into believing that disasters are going to happen,” Benefield said.

Mothers Against Drunk Driving does oppose liquor privatization in Pennsylvania and was happy to lend its name to the cause.

In a statement, MADD's national president Jan Withers said, “as we work to eliminate drunk driving, privatizing alcohol sales is not the answer.”

But an examination of the numbers shows that privatization may not be the DUI boogeyman opponents claim.

In fact, the numbers are surprising.

In 2011, there were 407 alcohol-related fatalities in Pennsylvania. That's 3.2 per 100,000 residents.

New Jersey had 193 fatalities or 2.2 per 100,000.

In New York, it was 315 or 1.6 per 100,000.

In Maryland, 162 people died or 2.8 per 100,000.

So, neighboring states with less control of liquor sales actually had fewer DUI deaths.

Stephen Erni of the Pennsylvania DUI Association admits Pennsylvania's numbers are bad, but he says adding more liquor licenses and privatizing won't make them better.

“What we are suggesting to the general public and what we are suggesting to Capitol Hill is if you are passing this legislation, you're only gonna make matters worse in Pennsylvania,” Erni said.

A MADD spokeswoman also noted a study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that shows states with more control over alcohol do a better job at keeping booze from minors.

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