Drink War Spills Into State Legislature

Stephanie Sands

Last semester, this column reported on an attempt by the Tampa Alcohol Coalition to ban drink specials in Tampa. Fortunately, the state ruled in December that such a ban is beyond the city’s authority to regulate these specials. This is not the end of the fight, however, as a report on college campus alcohol abuse recommended that the state change its laws to allow regulation of drink specials by counties and cities. The Tampa Alcohol Coalition is attempting to ‘identify state legislators who will help us with [their] cause,’ according to an article from the St. Pete Times.

Passing this law is unlikely to curb underage drinking. Most students who want to drink may visit a certain establishment because of its prices; but regardless, that student is still likely to go out and consume. If students are unable to visit a local club, they will probably drink on campus, which is the safest place for them to consume, anyway.

As I mentioned last semester, attacking these specials is the wrong move in the war against underage drinking. Tougher drunk driving laws, more crackdowns on fake IDs and better trained bartenders are among the steps that should be taken. This will allow those of us who are of age and enjoy drink specials to go out and not have to feel it in our wallets and allow those who are concerned about underage drinking to rest assured that proper changes are being made to curb that problem.

Several studies on college drinking suggest that the problem with over-consumption is that it is linked to student misconceptions about what drinking norms really are. According to a study by Wesley Perkins, Michael Haines and Richard Rice of Hobart and William Smith Colleges, ‘reducing these misperceptions ‘hellip; might reduce heavy drinking and its related harm.’

After four years as a UT student, one thing I have noticed is that many students here tend to exaggerate problems occurring on campus or stereotype the entire student body. Nothing is more evident in this as the recent comments on these pages regarding UT’s females being obsessed with tanning. While many students frequent the pool on Saturday afternoon, the pool is not large enough to accommodate UT’s population of 5,300 students. Similarly, it is easy to think that there are a lot of stupid students here when you are awoken by the third fire alarm in two weeks. But as Sarah Kelly noted last week, many UT students are here to focus on their academic work.

Misconceptions by UT students also occur in regards to UT’s drinking culture. We have seen many social norms campaigns launched recently showing that students at UT aren’t as apt to drink as one might assume. By continuing such campaigns, studies suggest, high-risk drinking and its negative effects should be lowered as more students are less likely to feel like they have to drink on any given Thursday night. Enacting legislation to curb drink specials is unnecessary because those of us who are of age and who can be responsible drinkers should still be allowed to enjoy our happy hour.

While the state legislature has not acted on this over-regulation, as Ybor City Chamber of Commerce President Tom Keating has called it, it is working on legislation that makes sense. After one of his constituents was ejected from a Pinellas Park bar for not drinking (the man was the designated driver), State Senator Mike Fasano has introduced a bill ‘that would prevent bar owners from throwing out patrons who don’t buy alcohol.’

While the circumstances surrounding the man’s ejection from the bar are debated by the parties involved, this sort of legislation is important. Designated drivers should be encouraged at bars, and some establishments even offer complimentary alcohol-free beverages for the DDs. The legislation should go further and demand a complimentary bottled water or soft drink for anybody who signs a card pledging to be the evening’s designated driver.

On Dec. 5 last year, Dewars Scotch ran an ad in the New York Times celebrating the anniversary of Prohibition’s repeal in 1933. This ad states ‘It feels like yesterday! Make sure the story stays the same tomorrow.’ I hope the legislature continues to act on bills that make sense and might prevent drunk driving while voting down efforts that are unlikely to be effective at curbing underage drinking.

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