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Beer, health & taxes.

Through a combination of deft political action and fortuitous political circumstance, the beer industry surmounted the tax challenge in the recent budget package.

Despite this reprieve, many in the industry believe that another tax challenge is on the horizon, wrapped up in the health care reform package.

Fortunately, it won't be easy for the Administration to impose new beer taxes. Mr. Clinton's tenuous mandate makes it unwise for him to add further tax burdens to the middle class. And, as Beer Institute president Ray McGrath points out (in an interview included in this issue) excise taxes are drying up as a source of revenue. "Additional taxes will result in fewer revenues, not more," McGrath notes, "and legislators have to realize that."

Unfortunately, the most compelling argument against linking beer taxes and health care is one that must remain virtually unspoken: that beer, consumed moderately, is good for you.

Numerous studies have illustrated the benefits that beer can provide to the vascular system, by helping to clear arteries and circumvent heart disease.

In addition, Americans are much more likely to die from heart disease than cirrhosis. So why tax brewers excessively? Why not tax producers of the fat-laden foods that give the U.S. the highest heart disease rates in the world?

Even the Federal regulatory bureaucracy has taken note of beer's new respectability. In the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms (BATF) August 2, 1993 circular, the agency noted, "ATF does recognize that there is currently a growing body of scientific research and other data that seems to provide evidence that lower levels of drinking decrease the risk of death from coronary heart disease."

In the past, the agency has balked at allowing producers to inform the public as to any potential benefits of alcohol consumption, but the most recent circular marks a subtle shift in the bureau's position.

In the circular, the ATF said that alcoholic beverage producers can now disseminate information on the risks and benefits of alcohol consumption. Specifically, producers can choose to reprint the full text of an article published by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) in an advertisement.

The article in question is the NIAAA's effort to present a balanced discussion of the risks and benefits of alcohol consumption. ATF notes that any attempts to excerpt the article will be "closely scrutinized to determine if they present a balanced picture of the risks associated with alcohol consumption."

Alcohol beverage producers may find it difficult to take advantage of this new provision, as ATF notes in the circular. "ATF considers it extremely unlikely that a balanced claim would fit on a normal alcoholic beverage label."

Despite the qualifications, this development offers the hope that brewers will one day be allowed to tell the consumer about beer's substantive contributions to life and health.

The addition of more balanced information to the public debate would be of great benefit: ending the damaging linkage between beer and narcotics once and for all, and stopping misplaced attempts to lay the costs of health care at the door of the American brewing community.
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Title Annotation:brewing industry; health care reform
Author:Reid, Peter V.K.
Publication:Modern Brewery Age
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Sep 20, 1993
Words:515
Previous Article:Town crier.
Next Article:Brewing the future at Coors.
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