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Saturday, April 1, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Today, beer and wine values

Alcohol sales and distribution are regulated by Washington state with good cause. Unlike other products we buy in the store, such as potato chips or bran flakes, alcohol is a dangerous and addictive substance, responsible for the destruction of lives due to drunken driving and alcoholism.

For this reason, the state Liquor Control Board enforces regulations to promote an environment of responsible, moderate consumption and to keep alcohol out of the hands of children. Those in favor of a less-regulated system in Washington state believe alcohol prices should be lowered and beer and wine should be treated like any other product in the supermarket.

Neither the state nor the public treats beer and wine like other products, because they're simply not like other products.

The case against Washington state, filed by Costco, challenges the necessity of beer and wine distributors and the additional markup fees that distributors are currently required to make by law [see "Closing arguments made in beer, wine sales case," Local News, March 31].

The eradication of these fees may result in a less-expensive product for the consumer, but it certainly will result in a looser environment for alcohol in our state, and bigger profit margins for big businesses. In this case, the monetary expense is much different than the societal expense. I believe Washingtonians do not want to weaken safeguards and sacrifice responsible distribution just so big-box chain stores can make a few extra bucks.

Beer and wine distributors provide valuable services to consumers and the public. Distributors purchase products, check them for safety, guard against product tampering and impurities, record alcohol sales, pay the state taxes, assist retailers with product selection and marketing and enforce the state's alcohol laws.

The expense of cheaper, unregulated beer and wine doesn't just mean weakened safeguards for our children and for those who currently abuse alcohol or drive drunk. It means less choice and quality for those who responsibly consume their favorite microbrews or fine wines. It means big-box stores will be given the opportunity to roll out their business model to beer and wine, offering less variety and slightly cheaper products to gain a big profit.

Cheap, unregulated alcohol is not in the public interest. As we contemplate the fate of beer and wine regulations, I'd ask that we not forget we are talking about a product with a history of abuse; we must not treat it like any other product.

Phil Wayt is executive director of the Washington Beer & Wine Wholesalers Association, based in Tumwater.

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