SALT LAKE CITY — A newspaper ad Thursday claiming to be from Colorado offers Utah a thank-you note for passing a law lowering the legal blood-alcohol concentration for driving to .05 percent.
The card came in the form of a full-page spread, but is actually from the American Beverage Institute. It says the ad it bought in the Deseret News is "tongue-in-cheek." The organization also took out a full-page ad in the Salt Lake Tribune depicting a young couple getting pulled over after dinner while vacationing at a Utah ski resort.
"Just wanted to thank you for passing the .05 BAC law. Arresting moderate social drinkers for having as little as one drink will certainly make us look more attractive to most tourists, businesses and skiers," the note reads.
"We know you've always been a little 'quirky' when it comes to alcohol laws, but this is really out there."
The note is signed, "Sincerely, Colorado."
A national restaurant association took out a newspaper ad Thursday depicting a thank-you note from Colorado to Utah for passing a law lowering the legal blood-alcohol concentration for driving to .05 percent. | American Beverage Institute
Utah became the first state in the nation to pass legislation dropping the legal limit from .08 to .05. Gov. Gary Herbert has not signed the bill into law but has expressed support for it. It would become effective Dec. 30, 2018.
"We really wanted to raise the profile of this issue," said Sarah Longwell, American Beverage Institute managing director. Based in Washington, D.C., the organization represents restaurant chains and independent restaurants around the country. It opposes the .05 standard.
The Salt Lake Area Restaurant Association is organizing a St. Patrick's Day rally Friday at the state Capitol to urge Herbert to veto the measure.
Rep. Norm Thurston, R-Provo, said the beverage institute "gets points for creativity." But tourism didn't suffer in 1983 when Utah became the first state in the country to lower the limit from .10 to .08, he said.
"It didn't make us look weird. In fact, it made us look avant garde because right after we did that, other states followed suit and eventually all 50 states did it," said Thurston, who sponsored HB155.
Longwell said the beverage institute doesn't want to see that happen again and is doing what it can to tell Utahns what the lower limit means.
"You are more impaired driving talking on hands-free cellphone, just on your Bluetooth in your car, than at the current legal limit of .08," she said.
Colorado, though, might not be the best state to depict calling out Utah, despite the two states' long-running tourism rivalry.
Interestingly, Colorado has two levels of alcohol-related driving violations, both are based on blood-alcohol content. In addition to the .08 DUI limit, Colorado drivers could be cited for the lesser offense of "driving while ability is impaired" at .05.
The ad in the Tribune comes under the heading, "Utah Hospitality?"
"Step one: Hit the slopes. Step two: Have a drink or two with dinner. Step three: Get arrested driving home."
Michele Corigliano, Salt Lake Area Restaurant Association executive director, had a one-word reaction to the ads: "Yikes."
A national restaurant association took out a newspaper ad Thursday depicting a young couple getting pulled over after dinner while vacationing at a Utah ski resort. | American Beverage Institute
Not that she disagrees with the content, but that the .05 limit reinforces the perception that Utah is hostile to drinkers.
"When people decide to plan their ski vacation, they're not going to come here," Corigliano said. "We feel like this is a message bill saying people who drink are not welcome in Utah."
Thurston said he has no problem with people drinking as much as they want, but he doesn't want them getting behind the wheel after consuming alcohol.
Tourists might see Utah as a safer place to visit than Colorado, he said.
"Colorado, you got problems with drinking and driving, you got problems with smoking and driving, you go problems with eating brownies and driving," Thurston said, referring to the state's legalized use of recreational marijuana.
He argues that no study has shown that tourism has suffered in the more than 100 countries — including France, Germany and Italy — that have gone to the .05 limit.
Longwell counters that European countries have lower legal drinking ages than in the United States and more-extensive mass transit systems. She said it's not an apples-to-apples comparison.
Asked if the beverage institute is taking out ads opposing the limit in other countries, Longwell said the institute is a trade association for American restaurants.
"What they do in Europe is not germane to this conversation," she said.
Bella Dinh-Zarr, acting chairwoman of the National Transportation Safety Board, called the American Beverage Institute ads "ridiculous" and "fear-mongering." The NTSB first recommended the .05 standard nationwide in 2013.
"It's actually very sad," she said.
The beverage association is spreading misinformation and mischaracterizing the issue, Dinh-Zarr said. People go to Utah, she said, for its hiking trials, affordable lift tickets and good restaurants, not to drink alcohol.
"These are complete scare tactics that are hurting safety," she said, adding that more Utahns will be killed in drunk driving accidents without the .05 standard.