This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2008, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
The politically powerful LDS Church has told state lawmakers it favors the controversial proposal to take flavored malt beverages off grocery store shelves.
Church spokesman Mark Tuttle said Thursday that leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints support Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff and the state's alcohol-control board's position "that the sale of distilled spirits - including so-called alcopops - should be restricted to state liquor stores.
"To allow the sale of distilled spirits in grocery and convenience stores promotes underage drinking and undermines the state system of alcohol control."
This is the first public statement by the LDS Church on restricting sales of flavored malt beverages to the state's 30 liquor outlets and 100 package agencies located in small towns and resorts. A spokesman said the church statement had been prepared in anticipation of questions on the issue.
"There's no doubt that the battle just got tougher," said James Olsen, president of the Utah Food Industry Association, representing more than 8,000 grocery and convenience stores that oppose removing flavored malt beverages from their shelves.
This past fall the Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission voted to send a proposal restricting sales to lawmakers for consideration. The 3-2 vote was split, with nondrinking Mormons voting in favor and non-Mormon imbibers in opposition.
Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, who is drafting legislation to restrict sales, said he had already made up his mind before he learned about LDS Church concerns during a legislative luncheon last week.
"It's the church's right to voice an opinion, and they've always been vocal on certain state policy decisions, with alcohol being one of them," said Bramble. "They've now added their voice to a choir of voices."
The price of flavored beverages would cost more in state liquor outlets: the markup is 85 percent. In addition, Utah would be the first state to restrict sales of the beverages - a prospect Bramble said should not be part of the discussion.
"Lots of states and counties have liquor laws that may seem quirky," he said, "mostly to the people who aren't accustomed to them."
The Legislature, whose membership is 80 percent Mormon, likely will decide on restrictions after it convenes on Monday.
A religious divide over the issue is apparent in a Tribune poll showing 47 percent of Mormons surveyed supported restricting malt beverages to state-controlled outlets, compared to 10 percent of the non-Mormons. Overall, 36 percent of Utahns polled supported restricted sales, 54 percent were opposed and 10 percent undecided on restrictions.
The alcohol content of malt beverages is the same as 3.2 percent beer sold in grocery stores. But proponents of the restrictions say malt beverages also contain distilled spirits, which under Utah law must be sold in state stores. Opponents say the amount of distilled spirits is infinitesimal, about 22/100 of 1 ounce.
"If you're going to send flavored malt beverages to state liquor stores," said Olsen, "then what about cough syrup and mouth washes because they contain spirits too."
The church agrees with the position of the Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission and the attorney general that the sale of distilled spirits - including so-called alcopops - should be restricted to state liquor stores.
To allow the sale of distilled spirits in grocery and convenience stores promotes underage drinking and undermines the state system of alcohol control. Utah can justifiably take pride in its low rates of per capita consumption of alcohol and its low incidence of drunk driving. The resulting lower social costs from alcohol abuse are a benefit to all Utahns.
- LDS Church spokesman Mark Tuttle