LDS Church says Utah alcohol laws benefit all residents

Published: Wednesday, Jan. 22 2014 5:10 a.m. MST

The LDS Church released a statement along with videos Tuesday explaining the importance of Utah's alcohol laws.

YouTube screenshot

SALT LAKE CITY — Statistics clearly show Utah's alcohol laws make the state a safer place and shouldn't be changed, the LDS Church said Tuesday.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints released the lengthy statement in the newsroom section of LDS.org six days before the start of the 2014 Utah legislative session. It says that while Utah's laws sometimes inspire ridicule, their benefits are worthwhile.

For example, Utah has the lowest number of alcohol-related traffic deaths per capita in the country.

"We think we've struck in Utah a good balance between the reasonable availability of alcohol and limiting these negative consequences and social costs," Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the church's Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said in a 10-minute video interview released with the statement.

A whiteboard video animation also accompanied the online release of the statement. It states that Utah's laws are "reasonable controls over alcohol" and "crucial safeguards that have proven effective." It ends with the question, "Why try to fix something that isn't broken?"

The statement says "the church does not contest the fact that alcohol is socially acceptable in our society and should be available to those who want it," but it maintains the church has a right to express its views and engage in discussions about important social issues such as alcohol.

Social costs

The nation continues to grapple with the social costs of alcohol. The CDC reported in August that drinking carries economic costs in states and communities. Its survey of academic studies and statistics showed that excessive alcohol consumption costs society $1.91 per drink, for an annual national total of $223.5 billion.

The median cost for states is $2.9 billion. Utah's costs were the lowest, at $1.47 billion, but the CDC said those figures mean the cost of excessive alcohol use for states is on the same level as the cost of smoking or Medicaid.

The study found that 40 percent of those costs are paid by governments. In Utah, 45 percent of the costs of excessive alcohol consumption is borne by government, the highest rate in the nation.

Elder Christoffeson said the church has particular concern about three social costs related to alcohol — abuse or overconsumption, underage drinking and driving while intoxicated.

In each case, Utah is doing either better than the rest of the country or better than a majority of states. Underage drinking in the state happens at half the national average. Fatalities due to drunken driving account for 16 percent of Utah's driving fatalities, again about half the national average. The CDC found in 2010 that Utah also had the lowest prevalence of binge drinking in the nation.

"In Utah, we have the lowest number of traffic fatalities (per capita) related to drunk drinking in the country," Elder Christofferson said. "We have the lowest prevalence of binge drinking for those 18 and older in the country. And we always rank among the lowest in terms of DUI arrests. Why would we want to risk losing any of those benefits that have come with the regimen we now have in place for alcohol consumption and regulation? We're really doing better here than most places, most jurisdictions. If we begin to go in the direction they have, it's unreasonable to expect we won't have the same outcomes."

Religious freedom

Tuesday's statement said Utah's alcohol laws "are based on well-reasoned and sound public policy considerations adopted by Utah’s Legislature," not LDS doctrine on alcohol consumption. Latter-day Saints are instructed not to drink alcohol as part of "The Word of Wisdom" found in the Doctrine and Covenants, a book of LDS scripture.

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