Yes, tobacco taxes really do kill business

A sad story out of Utah where new tobacco taxes are causing at least one tobacco shop, which has been in business since the 1940s, to close its doors. The increased taxes would be bad enough, but the kicker is that they don’t apply just to new stock. Retailers will have to apply the higher rate to all of the inventory they own, even though they purchased it at the old tax rate. In the case of Jeanie’s Smoke Shop that will add up to about $125,000 due in July. Unable to sell their inventory or raise that much cash by then, they’ll be closing their doors instead. Read the full story here.

One Republican state senator supports the tax and comes up short in the sympathy department:

Sen. Allen Christensen, R-North Ogden, who fought for years to raise Utah’s tobacco tax, said he understood that distributors would have to pay the bill, not retailers. But Charlie Roberts, Utah Tax Commission spokesman, said retailers indeed must pay the higher tax and yes, it will come due when the law takes effect this summer.

“If that’s the way it is, then so be it,” Christensen said. “I’m sorry for some of the businessmen the law will impact, but they’re selling a deadly product.”

He also predicted Jeanie’s Smoke Shop and other retailers “will somehow come up with that money anyway.”

Governor Gary Herbert can still veto the bill, but he probably won’t.

[Via @NoCigTax.]


Having a drink, having an abortion, what’s the difference?

Don’t you hate it when you’re hanging out with friends at a bar and the conversation takes an unexpected turn to intense political debate and you’re one or two bourbons past your ability to eloquently defend your views? That’s how I felt reading this article in Slate about Utah’s recent alcohol liberalization:

Make no mistake: Mormons are still taught that consuming alcohol (and tobacco and coffee) is a sin. But during the debate over alcohol reform, LDS released a statement saying that although the church “teaches its members to avoid alcohol altogether,” there can be room for “individual freedom of choice” in this case. This stance is a reversal of the usual position of religious conservatives in the United States. Mormons and Christian conservatives may not always get along, but they agree that moral issues such as abortion deserve a central place in public life. The arguments of lily-livered Christian liberals, who maintain that abortion is perhaps morally wrong but shouldn’t be legislated by the state, are anathema. Now Huntsman and others seem to be embracing just that sort of separation between private and public morality.

Whoa, and here I thought we were just talking about being able to have a drink without being harassed by stupid Prohibition era state laws. How did abortion enter the picture?

The LDS deserves credit for saying that, regardless of its own views on alcohol consumption, it’s up to individuals to decide whether or not to partake. This has little similarity to the abortion debate, which is about what kind of entities can claim a right to life. Whether pro-life or pro-choice, it shouldn’t be hard to see that abortion is a very different matter than questioning whether it’s sinful to have a Sidecar. Nor does it do any good to the movement to roll back archaic alcohol laws to tie into the abortion debate. But other than that, the article is well worth a read.

Utah, future home of the Vieux Carré


Big Brother is watching you drink

Utah is considering getting rid of its comically archaic “private club” rule that requires patrons to become members of a bar before they can drink. Unfortunately, their proposed alternative is a little creepy:

[…] everyone entering a club, whether they’re 21 or 101, would have to swipe their identification to verify it is genuine. The patron’s name, address, driver license number and date of birth would be logged into the [government] database, along with the time and place they were drinking.

And from London, a story from a pub owner forced to install CCTV cameras outside his business:

I have recently agreed to take on a pub in a residential part of Islington. Under normal circumstances this would have simply involved the existing licence holder signing over the premises’ licence to me. Unfortunately they had gone insolvent and disappeared so I applied for a new licence, which requires the approval of a number of organisations, including the police. I was stunned to find the police were prepared to approve, ie not fight, our licence on condition that we installed CCTV capturing the head and shoulders of everyone coming into the pub, to be made available to them upon request. There was no way that they could have imposed this on the previous licence holder.

As it happens the Islington Labour party headquarters is on the same street as the pub and, being a member, I contacted the MP Emily Thornberry to see if she really thinks she needs her photo taken when she pops in for a pint – needless to say I have not heard from her. I also spoke with a friend who is the licensing officer for another borough. Not only did he tell me that there was nothing I could do to overturn this, he also strongly advised me not to blot my copybook with the police by even questioning the request; I would not want them against me in the future, he said.

Calling two examples a trend would be lazy reporting. But given the unique restrictions that are placed on the alcohol industry, we could easily see more governments using regulation as a tool for collecting private information. This is something to keep an eye on.

[Hat tip to Hit and Run for the first link.]

Utah, future home of the Vieux Carré


I hate to rag on Utah again

No, actually, I don’t. It’s the one state that makes me feel good about having to deal with the OLCC. So here’s the latest proposal introduced in the Utah legislature:

A Republican state senator says he wants to keep alcohol out of the view of minors in restaurants — at least until it reaches a customer’s table.

Senate President Michael Waddoups, R-Taylorsville, said children shouldn’t be allowed to see liquor bottles or drinks being poured.

“Restaurants are turning into bars,” Waddoups said. “It’s making it look attractive. Kids see it and wonder what they’re missing. I think we need to be a little more strict.”

Drop a burka on that bottle of Jack and problem solved.

[Via Rogier van Bakel.]

Utah, future home of the Vieux Carré


One more reason to skip Utah bars

Oregon’s not the only state that put a smoking ban into effect today:

Bars in Utah smell different – a lot less smoky. Utah’s Indoor Clean Air Act – better known as the smoking ban – is now in effect.

On Wednesday, the inside of some Utah bars were filled with cigarettes and smoke. But on this first day of 2009 something’s not in the air. The cigarettes are still out due to habit but gone are the plumes of smoke.

To be honest, this is one smoking ban I just can’t get upset about. I would have thought Utah had banned smoking a long time ago. And people actually go to the bars there? Talk about burying the lede!

Utah, future home of the Vieux Carré


Utah, future home of the Vieux Carré

We’re a little late to this, but Jeff Fulcher (whom I’m glad I finally got to meet at Cato’s Repeal Day event last week) notes that Utah’s strange alcohol laws have gotten even stranger. Though news coverage was distracted by the ban on “alcopops,” Utah has also implemented changes to its alcohol service laws in bars. Previously drinks were limited to 1 oz of liquor, but customers in some businesses could order an additional shot, or sidecar, to bring their drinks up to normal strength. The new law alters this. Drinks are now allowed a more sensible 1.5 oz of alcohol, but a change has been made to the sidecar rule: Customers can still order a sidecar but it has to be of a different liquor than the one in their drink, the theory being that this will prevent them from stiffening their already impotent cocktails.

As Jeff notes, this silliness opens the door to unintended consequences:

What’s the worst that happens when someone gets an extra shot of gin for their gin and tonics? They usually drop the extra hooch into the drink, creating a slightly stronger highball. The game changes if they can’t combine. All of the sudden, instead of diluting the booze it gets thrown straight down the gullet.

John Saltas writes that it’s easy to get around the law anyway, as long as you’ve got a willing friend:

So you’ll just order a gin and tonic with a side of vodka, and your date will order a vodka tonic with a side of gin. Then you’ll switch your side shots and pour yourselves doubles. Call this practice The Guv. The governor got grifted in the name of tourism—which won’t increase just because Utah plays mind games with alcohol.

Sounds like a plan. Yet the bottom line is that Utah’s very stupid laws make it very hard to get a decent drink. They operate on the idea that a cocktail is simply 1 or 1.5 ounces of liquor combined with a mixer. As any reader of this blog knows, good cocktails are usually much more complicated or at least much stronger than that. The world of mixology has more to offer than gin and tonics or rum and Cokes or any other variation of spirit X and mixer Y.

So what to do? As a service to my friends in Utah [Note: I don’t actually have any friends in Utah], here’s a tip for what to order under the new law. Order a Vieux Carré:

1 oz rye whiskey
1 oz Cognac
1 oz sweet vermouth
1 tsp Benedictine
2 dashes Peychaud’s bitters
2 dashes Angostura bitters

Stir and serve over ice.

The Vieux Carré was invented at the Monteleone Hotel in New Orleans and named after the French Quarter. It’s a magnificent drink, one of my favorites for making at home. And most importantly, I believe it’s technically legal in Utah, since from what I understand vermouth counts as a “flavoring” and not as liquor. Therefore one could order the drink as above, leaving out the rye or Cognac and ordering it as a sidecar.

There are problems, of course. For starters one would have to find a bar in Utah that carries rye, Benedictine, and both kinds of bitters. That’s difficult anywhere outside of New Orleans, and I’m betting that it’s doubly so in Mormon country. The bartender is also unlikely to have any idea what a Vieux Carré is or how to mix one; the drinker will have to instruct him.

But still, this is an underappreciated cocktail, even in New Orleans. Utah is just the place to revive it. So it’s on you, my as yet non-existent Utah friends. You don’t get many chances to lead the way in mixology, but here you go. Spite the moral majority, bring back a classic cocktail, and enjoy a Vieux Carré.


“Scotch, barkeep, and make it a 1.5”

There are some changes afoot for Utah’s notoriously backwards alcohol laws:

On Wednesday, Utah will be the only state to ban the sale of fruity alcoholic drinks at grocery stores and convenience stores in an effort to keep them from minors. Those drinks also must have new state-approved labels on the front of the product that contain capitalized letters in bold type telling consumers the drinks contain alcohol and at what percentage.

So far, no new labels have been approved. Utah Department of Alcholic Beverage Control spokeswoman Sharon Mackay said the state’s limited supply of those drinks will likely be gone in a few weeks…

Some manufacturers have already decided it’s not worth it to produce new labels just for Utah…

Republican Gov. Jon Huntsman said banning products like Zima, Smirnoff Ice and Seagram’s Fuzzy Navel from grocery stores would harm Utah’s image, but agreed to it in exchange for increasing the amount of liquor allowed in shots and standard cocktails to 1.5 ounces, up from 1 ounce.

Trading away Zima for the ability to almost serve a proper mixed drink is, arguably, a victory for good taste. But a victory for individual rights? Not so much.