Deseret Morning News graphic

Anti-alcohol advocates fired a warning shot across the bow of the Utah Legislature, warning lawmakers through a public opinion poll released Thursday that there is no public support for loosening state liquor laws.

"This monumental and important study clearly shows that Utah citizens are satisfied with Utah's present progressive alcoholic beverage control system and do not support attempts to change the law," said George J. Van Komen, chairman of the Alcohol Policy Coalition.

According to the poll, conducted by Insight Research, a majority of Utahns do not want to see wine sold in grocery stores, do not want to see the state's 3.2 percent beer boosted to 3.7 percent and do not favor increasing the amount of alcohol in mixed drinks above the current 1-ounce limit.

The survey also shows overwhelming support for toughening Utah laws targeted at underage drinking, bolstering the coalition's support for legislation, to be sponsored by Sen. Pete Knudson, R-Brigham City, in the upcoming legislative session that would divert 25 percent of beer taxes into a campaign to fight illegal alcohol consumption.

"We really need to step forward and do something about it (underage drinking)," said Art Brown, president of the Salt Lake chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, rattling off statistics showing 45 percent of those who start drinking by age 13 will become alcoholics.

Van Komen said the poll results also show a cultural divide in Utah.

Churchgoing members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which proscribes alcohol use, responded overwhelmingly they do not want state alcohol laws loosened.

Those who are not LDS, who imbibe alcoholic beverages or who are politically liberal, are more likely to want changes to Utah's alcohol laws, considered among the toughest and quirkiest in the nation.

That divide, Van Komen said, can be overcome through education of the public as to the advantages and benefits of liquor laws that discourage consumption, underage drinking and easy access.

"Many states envy how we do it in Utah," he said.

The survey also found that most people in Utah don't understand the role of the Utah Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, which regulates the distribution and sale of alcohol. And nondrinking, Republican, churchgoing Mormons — especially those living in Utah County — were largely unfamiliar with Utah liquor laws, with only 9 to 11 percent responding they were very familiar with the laws. About half said they were somewhat familiar.

Among the other findings in the poll:

• Half of those polled favored a ban on alcohol sales at sporting events, whereas 43 percent were opposed to a ban.

• By a 2-to-1 margin, Utahns do not believe raising the alcohol tax will discourage consumption.

• More than 70 percent favored keeping the alcohol content of beer sold at grocery stores at 3.2 percent.

• Forty percent of those questioned believed loosening alcohol laws would boost tourism and financially benefit the state.

• Some 80 percent believe alcohol advertising leads to increased consumption.

• About one-third believe alcohol laws are too restrictive, while half said they are "about right."

• The population was about split on whether to eliminate the state's "private club" system.

• About two-thirds were opposed to selling wine in grocery stores, whereas 31 percent were in favor.

Van Komen said economic benefits should never justify changing state liquor laws if it means even one more baby being born with fetal alcohol syndrome or one more person dying in a drunken driving accident.

"The cost appears to be too great," he said.

Insight Research surveyed 418 Utahns last June, asking 39 questions about alcohol consumption, alcohol laws and potential outcomes from changes to those laws, as well as demographic information about the respondents. The margin of error is plus or minus 5 percent.