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State should conduct further research before restricting Everclear

BY DI EDITORIAL BOARD | DECEMBER 01, 2009 7:20 AM

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At first glance, a glass of Everclear looks like a glass of tap water. But it is almost pure alcohol. Stories abound about Everclear’s lethality when superfluously consumed, but it’s unclear how detrimental the alcohol is to Iowa consumers writ large.

Consequently, the state should conduct a more thorough study before placing any new restrictions on the product.

Everclear made headlines recently when a Drake University student required hospitalization after downing cups of Everclear 151. In response to the incident, the Iowa Alcoholic Beverages Commission is hosting a comment section on its website to compile additional information and opinions on the product.

Some of the potential actions include educating the public about Everclear’s alcohol content, lowering that content, or banning the substance. Alcoholic Beverages Division Administrator Lynn Walding didn’t explicitly advocate prohibiting the sale of Everclear, but he did indicate more action may be needed beyond informing the public. In forming its opinion, the commission hopes to draw solutions both from its comment board and a forum it will host at Drake early next year.

There are numerous horror stories involving Everclear. The aforementioned Drake student’s blood-alcohol concentration was 0.50 — in excess of levels that have proven lethal for other individuals.

And he was luckier than others. Justin Flowers, a 14-year-old Davenport resident, died in December 1997 after chugging one-third of an Everclear bottle.

While these stories highlight the problems Everclear abuse can create, they do not prove the problems are endemic to the population. There is little empirical evidence on the alcohol, and even Walding admitted he knew little about the drink before the Drake incident. The state already bans Everclear 190, which contains 95 percent alcohol, and the commission should get more information before further restricting the product.

Banning or restricting Everclear could have negative consequences for nondrinkers, too. Everclear is grain alcohol, and Walding said distillers use corn to make it — much of it Iowa corn. Banning or restricting Everclear could detrimentally affect Iowa’s farmers and economy.

Walding said he’s open to public suggestion and admitted more information is needed before taking any additional action. The commission is right to request feedback from the community, but it should also gather comprehensive data rather than merely relying on anecdotes.

Stories can be compelling. But they are hardly reflective of the greater picture. Before deciding anything, the commission needs to determine the shape of that overall picture.


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