Changing state law to allow the sale of wine in grocery stores could lead to an epidemic of boozing in Tennessee with drunken vagrants cluttering the streets of neighborhoods, a crusader against underage drinking warned a state legislative committee Tuesday.
Pamela Erickson, president of the temperance group Public Action Management, testified during the second day of hearings on the legislation, which has failed three straight years in the face of opposition from an unlikely partnership of liquor stores and churches.
“I don’t think you could make a big change like that without increasing consumption and social problems,” Erickson said. “I know a lot of people say 33 states sell wine in grocery stores and they don’t have problems. Well believe me, we do have problems.”
In one state, she said, “Street drinkers came and they littered the neighborhood. I had an employee who lived in that area, and he had to literally move bodies of alcoholics who had passed out in his driveway in order to drive his children to work, and these people would be shouting obscenities to him and his children. … You’re just bound to have more problems with street drinking if you radically increase the outlets for this particular product.”
Erickson claimed supermarkets in England sell booze at low prices, enticing young people to go on binges and causing liver disease and other health problems.
“When you deregulate, you unleash very powerful market forces,” she said. “In the U.K. the large grocery chains are widely blamed for this epidemic. They use alcohol frequently as a loss leader. They’ve driven the price of alcohol ever lower. They’ve been truly devastated by this issue.”
“People ask, why can’t we just be like Europe where they have fewer regulations and a lot fewer problems? That’s just a myth. It’s simply not true at all. … In most European countries, alcohol problems are much greater than ours. In 10 years, hospital admissions for liver disease and acute intoxication of alcohol have doubled in England. One of the shocking things is that 8-year-old children show up in the hospital because they’ve been drinking too much.”
The joint legislative study committee held its first hearings in October. It's chaired by Sen. Bill Ketron, R-Murfreesboro, a supporter of wine in grocery stores.