EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

July 6, 2012

Editorial: State has no business promoting drinking

It seems almost too unbelievable to be true. But a New Hampshire state agency will be out and about this summer, enticing the public with the pleasures of alcohol.

The Liquor Commission's "Summer Fun Tour" features a brightly colored van that will be present at a number of events this season offering prizes, showcasing the low prices at the state's liquor and wine outlets and promoting drinking. Check that — "responsible" drinking.

"Responsible fun is the message," said Joseph Mollica, chairman of the commission. "It is a new approach. We're always looking for new ways to deliver our value message and increase revenue for the state."

Ah yes, increase revenue for the state. Why not just call the promotion "Drink Up — We Need the Money."

Liquor sales are indeed big business for New Hampshire. Last year, the state raised $560 million through alcohol sales. Mollica expects a 3-percent increase over that figure for the fiscal year just ended.

The promotion renews long-standing questions about the logic of the state's participation in the alcohol market. Ostensibly, the argument is that alcohol is a potentially dangerous product requiring state control. Yet the Liquor Commission is charged with simultaneously promoting and controlling its sale.

"We spend a lot of time, effort and dollars making people aware of responsible drinking. That's our goal," Mollica said. "We want people to visit our state, but moderation and responsibility is a key part of our message."

Yet at the same time, Mollica acknowledges that he has a responsibility to promote alcohol sales as well.

"It belongs to the people of the state, that's who owns it," Mollica said of alcohol and wine sales. "It's an asset to the people of New Hampshire and we are the caretakers of it. We take that responsibility very seriously."

The Summer Fun Tour promotes drinks inspired by the Granite State — think White Mountain Mojito and Live Free or Die Daiquiri. It also offers consumers coupons good at the state's 77 liquor and wine outlets, and a chance to win prizes ranging from surfboards and kayaks to two-night getaways at the Omni Mount Washington Resort.

The tour will run through August visiting big events such as the NASCAR race at the N.H. Motor Speedway, concerts at the Hampton Beach Casino Ballroom and the Meadowbrook U.S. Cellular Pavilion in Gilford and more.

Just as the Summer Fun Tour is getting underway, another state department is launching a campaign to reduce highway fatalities. The Transportation Department's "Driving Toward Zero" programs sets the ambitious — and impossible — goal of reducing the number of fatalities and severe injuries on roads to zero.

The program aims to create a "safety culture" in New Hampshire by encouraging seat belt use, motorcycle helmet use, improving roads and fighting impaired driving.

The two state programs are clearly working at cross-purposes.

As much as the Liquor Commission pushes its "responsible drinking" message, there will always be a few who listen to the "drinking" part while ignoring the "responsible." And some of those will get into cars and head on down the highway.

The Liquor Commission ought to consider the propriety of promoting the sale of the very products it is tasked with regulating. Or, better yet, it should consider getting out of the liquor sales business entirely.