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TEMPERANCE MOVEMENT BIDES ITS TIME
Writing shortly after World War II, Childs (1947, p. 229) observed that, according to national opinion surveys, "About one-third of the people of the United States favor national prohibition." He explained (p. 229) that:
The prohibition forces are well organized and adequately financed. They carry on persistent propaganda against the sale and use of alcoholic beverages. Their long-range plan is, first, to dry up local communities by local option elections; second, when feasible, to bring about state prohibition; and, third, in the future, to restore national prohibition.
National prohibition had been repealed by the Twenty-first Amendment which contains two short but important sentences:
Section 1: The eighteenth article of amendment to the Constitution of the United States is hereby repealed.
Section one made it again legal to import, produce, and sell beverage alcohol, while section two delegated to the States authority for regulating such beverages. The federal government did, however, retain the authority to tax alcohol and it soon asserted regulatory authority at the national level. The government first regulated alcohol largely through the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms of the Department of the Treasury. The bureau's functions include issuing basic permits to importers, warehouses, manufacturers, and wholesalers to conduct business; interdiction of illicit alcohol; and regulation of labeling and advertising of alcohol beverages (Mendelson and Mello, 1985, pp. 93-94). That agency has now been replaced by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB).
It is obvious that:
The confusion and warped attitudes engendered by this long and bitter struggle [over prohibition] have not disappeared. National prohibition is dead, but the movement is still with us under different names. The fifty states have varied and even conflicting laws; for example, in one state food must be served in the same place as liquor, while in an adjoining state not one but two walls must separate food from liquor. A few counties in local-option states are legally dry. Attitudes toward law and authority still suffer as an aftermath. Drinking and drunkenness are still equated by some, with moralistic implications contrary to the concept of alcoholism as a disease. (Royce, 1981, p. 42)
During the Vietnam conflict, increased political pressure arose to lower the minimum drinking age. It was commonly argued that if soldiers were old enough to go to war and endanger their lives for their country, then they were old enough to purchase and consume an alcohol beverage. This, combined with the increasing political activism of young people, led to the lowering of the drinking age in many states (Lotterhos et al., 1988, p. 632).
With the passage of time, heightened concern was expressed over problems related to the misuse of alcohol. Increased auto accidents and fatalities among young drivers were attributed to the lower legal drinking ages. While these increases may have resulted from greater use of cars or other factors, they were popularly blamed on the lower drinking ages. Highly publicized fears about the possible negative impact of alcohol on the health and well-being of citizens often exaggerate justifiable concerns and ascribe blame to alcohol without considering other contributing factors (Mendelson and Mello, 1985, p. 98). In politics, it is the perception of reality (rather than reality) that drives legislative action (Hanson, 1990,p. 89).
Americans are becoming more health and safety conscious. A preliminary report suggesting the mere possibility that oat bran might be helpful in reducing heart disease can create a dramatic increase in consumer demand for food products containing that product. The suggestion that a chemical sprayed on apple trees might be associated with cancer in rats if it is consumed in massive quantities can cause widespread fear and a dramatic reduction in demand for that fruit. Headlines incorrectly linking alcohol with a health or social problem can have a profound affect on behavior, and even on public policy.
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