Jacob Sullum

The section on alcohol in this pamphlet is a litany of dire warnings that includes one positive statement: "Drinking in moderation may lower risk for coronary heart disease, mainly among men over age 45 and women under age 55." Since the pamphlet offers just the sort of "balanced" -- i.e., overwhelmingly negative -- take on alcohol that the Treasury Department has always favored, it could not very well say no.

In 1999, after considering the proposal for three years, the BATF approved both the Wine Institute's "directional statement" and one from California's Laurel Glen Winery urging people "to consult with your family doctor about the health effects of wine consumption." Amazingly, these utterly bland statements caused an uproar among anti-alcohol activists and legislators, who insisted they would encourage alcohol abuse.

The National Council on Alcoholism called the labels "potentially disastrous." Sen. Strom Thurmond, R-S.C., retaliated by holding up Treasury Department appointments and threatening to remove the BATF's jurisdiction over alcohol and give it to the Food and Drug Administration.

"The approval of these labels generated considerable interest," the new regulations euphemistically note. So much "interest," in fact, that the BATF put a moratorium on the labels that its successor, the TTB, is removing only now.

Here's the kicker. The TTB has decided that advising consumers to send for a government pamphlet or consult with their doctors is so incendiary that it must be neutralized by a disclaimer: "This statement should not encourage you to drink or to increase your alcohol consumption for health reasons."

The Wine Institute, cowed by decades of getting the government's permission before speaking, issued a press release praising the TTB's decision. The group's president, John De Luca, said, "We believe science has prevailed over politics."

I believe neoprohibitionist censorship has prevailed over freedom of speech.

Jacob Sullum

Jacob Sullum is a senior editor at Reason magazine and a contributing columnist on Townhall.com.
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