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June 12, 2001

For More Information


George Hacker
ext. 343

Lisa Swann
202-332-9110 ext.370


National Poll Finds Acceptance of Utah's Alcohol Laws

WASHINGTON - As Salt Lake City officials consider easing restrictions on the availability of alcoholic beverages and drinking locations during the upcoming Winter Olympic Games, national poll results released by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) reveal that most Americans don't need or want more alcohol as an inducement to attend the Games in February 2002.

The Salt Lake City Council has been considering Mayor Rocky Anderson's request to turn all of Washington Square into a drinking zone, a move opposed by some council members, who prefer a smaller, more tightly monitored booze zone within the square. Alcohol Beverage Control authorities have also expressed concern that the Mayor's wide-open plan would facilitate underage drinking, make it more difficult to control public inebriation, and complicate efforts to trace the source of alcohol when problems occur. A public hearing on the proposal is set for the council's meeting on June 14.

According to the poll conducted by Penn, Schoen & Berland Associates, Inc., nearly three-quarters (73%) of adults said that Utah's restrictive alcohol laws would have "no effect" on their decision to attend the games. Nine percent (9%) responded that they would be less likely to attend, but twice that many (17%) indicated they would be more likely to attend the games if Utah maintained its current limitations on retail sales. The poll findings were outlined in a letter from CSPI to Salt Lake City officials.

"The games are their own draw," wrote George Hacker, director of CSPI's alcohol policies project in an open letter to the Salt Lake City Council. "Partying and drinking alcohol are not important factors for Americans in deciding whether to visit Utah for the Winter Olympics. This information rejects the notion that Utah needs to gut its alcohol-control laws and traditions to welcome visitors and satisfy the commercial interests of sponsor Anheuser-Busch and other alcoholic-beverage industry promoters." Anheuser-Busch, the world's largest brewer, is a principal sponsor of the Winter Olympics. The company has been aggressively seeking to make its beers as available as possible during the Games.

According to numerous news reports, Mayor Anderson wants to create a "festival" atmosphere around City Hall during the Games, loosening existing city ordinances to allow additional street vendors and the sale and consumption of beer and wine in public parks and squares.

Some City Council members and public health activists have reservations about turning the area into a "beer garden." They believe that Utah can have a successful Olympic event without flooding the streets with alcohol.

Dr. George J. Van Komen, a Salt Lake physician who chairs Utah's Alcohol Policy Coalition, pointed to the CSPI poll as further evidence that the family and youth-oriented Winter Olympics don't need to be alcoholized to be successful. He said, "For the vast majority of Americans, there are many more important reasons to come to the Games than to drink. Utah's current laws on alcohol both respect Americans' wishes and do not dampen the spirit of genuine hospitality that we offer all visitors. Affirming Utah's community values, rather than skewering them to market and sell more Budweiser, mirrors American attitudes and promises a successful, safe, and welcoming Winter Olympics."

Other key findings of the poll include:

  • Two-thirds (66%) of American adults say that having alcoholic beverages freely available at many locations during the Winter Olympics is "not important." Only 15% indicated that it was "very important."

  • When asked the best reason people decide to go to the Olympics, just 3% said "to party and drink alcohol." Similarly, only 3% of respondents indicated the "restricted availability of alcoholic beverages" as a reason not to go.

The CSPI poll, conducted from April 5 - 8, 2001, surveyed 500 Americans over the age of 21. Its margin of error is +/- 4.4 at 95% confidence interval level.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) is a nonprofit health-advocacy group based in Washington, D.C., that focuses on alcohol policies, nutrition and other issues. It led efforts to obtain the warning label on alcoholic beverages and nutrition labels on foods. CSPI is supported largely by the 800,000 U.S. and Canada subscribers to its Nutrition Action Healthletter and by foundation grants.