Monday, March 29, 2004
The Dangers of Underpromoting Alcohol
Walter Olson at Overlawyered brings news of a suit filed against some bars located near the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Under pressure from the university and federal government, the bars voluntarily eliminated drink specials on weekends. (Pressure for bars near college campuses to eliminate happy hours and other alcohol promotions is pretty common.) The bars now face an anti-trust claim (and potentially "treble damages") on behalf of those weekend imbibers who have been paying full price.
This lawsuit hits at a persistent source of conflict in vice regulation, namely, the control of advertising and other promotional activities. In general, I think that desirable regulatory regimes for vices as widespread as alcohol, heroin, tobacco, gambling, and prostitution, involve legality with a good deal of regulation -- including regulation of promotion. One problem (OK, one big problem) is that the controls over promotion in the US might be unconstitutional or, as (allegedly) in this case, violate antitrust laws. Unfettered advertising -- and arguably we are moving in that direction -- will possibly lead to criminalization of some currently legal vices, and serves as a barrier to legalization of our currently illicit vices.
For more on this theme, see this previous Vice Squad post on alcohol, and this one on brothels.