Earlier this year, the Beehive State lowered its blood alcohol content limit for driving under the influence from 0.08 percent to 0.05 percent, becoming the first state in the country to adopt the tougher benchmark.
The full-page advertisement in Thursday's Salt Lake Tribune by the American Beverage Institute (ABI) suggested that senior citizens it pictured some, including Gov. Gary Herbert and nearly a dozen state lawmakers are "more impaired ANY TIME they drive" than consumers with a blood alcohol content of 0.05.
ABI said the satirical spot was intended to show how unreasonable the new limit is.
Frank Pignanelli, a Utah lobbyist and former state lawmaker, said it violated the first rule in politics: Don't make it personal.
"As soon as you personalize things, it diminishes your position," he said. "Lawmakers will rally around each other if someone attacks, no matter if they are Democrat or Republican."
ABI could have prevented the backlash if it had included other activities that impair driving such as cellphones, prescription drug use or lack of sleep, he said. "But they highlighted age, which is something we can't do anything about."
The ad is such a good example of "what not to do," Pignanelli said, that he plans to save it and use it as an example for students in his campaign-management class at the University of Utah.
Utah House Speaker Greg Hughes, who opposed the new law, was offended by the satirical attacks.
The Draper Republican called that "warfare of fear" on KSL Radio's "Doug Wright Show," saying ABI apparently hopes to embarrass older lawmakers into repealing the law, which takes effect Dec. 30, 2018.
The speaker said ABI would be just as effective with its money if it threw "its dollar bills in a toilet" and watched them swirl away.
"It might work in other states, but that bullying doesn't work in our state," he said. "Ads like that go nowhere in the state of Utah. If anything, they indict their own cause."
Resentment extended across the political aisle as Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake City, tweeted, "I am appalled and outraged that they would put out this ad!"
While ABI said its ad was satirical, the exaggeration was lost on many lawmakers, a group that doesn't always take things in stride, said Tom Love, with Love Communications, a Utah advertising and public relations firm.
"I don't think I'm going out on limb to say that the Legislature is not known for having a great sense of humor," he said, "and they won't in this case."
But Love agreed the ad was a message to the rest of the nation.
"I'm sure ABI's motivation is to hold Utah up as an extreme example and shame us so they can stem the tide," he said. "It's an interesting strategy."
While people may not like the ad one of several the group has placed in newspapers across the country ultimately it may have accomplished its goal.
"It's gotten people's attention and people are talking about it," Love said, "and that's what they wanted."
ABI issued a news release Thursday seeking to clarify that it was not attacking the driving ability of older Utah lawmakers.
"The ad is making the exact opposite point," it said. "Of course people over 65 should still be able to drive (assuming they are passing the necessary health requirements). The ad is meant to demonstrate just how unreasonable the new 0.05 limit is and put impairment levels into context."
It adds, "For those legislators over 65 who have responded by saying they are great drivers we agree! ABI does not believe those over 65 shouldn't be able to drive any more than we think someone at 0.05 BAC should go to jail. It's not an attack on older drivers, it's an attack on the failed logic that led the Legislature to pass this terrible 0.05 law."
During an interview earlier this week, Sarah Longwell, ABI's managing director, said the group wants to get the strict state law repealed, but it also is thinking beyond Utah's borders when placing spots.
"Two other states have proposed the exact same law, " Longwell said, referring to Hawaii and Washington. And while they have not yet passed, "it shows that the issue is out there."
She said the National Transportation Safety Board is actively pushing the measure, so it could certainly come up in others states. If it does, ABI wants to have the robust debate it feels it didn't get in Utah.
"This is about it spreading nationally, " she said, "and we don't want bad ideas to spread."