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Signs may warn drinkers

After they're done perusing the wine list or the frozen drink menu in a bar or restaurant, patrons soon may have more reading to do. Hillsborough County Commissioners on Wednesday will consider a proposed ordinance that would require signs like this to be posted in any establishment that sells alcohol:

"Health warning: Alcohol in beer, wine spirits and liquor, alone or in combination with other non-alcoholic ingredients can cause birth defects, addiction and intoxication."

The signs are intended to raise awareness of the risks of drinking, and proponents say they've been successful in other communities at educating drinkers, especially young people and pregnant women.

"We're not really interested in prohibition," said Dr. Donald Kwalick, director of the Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services' Hillsborough County Public Health Unit. "We want to inform people and let them make some informed decisions."

But many in the restaurant and alcoholic beverage industries say the warning signs won't do any good.

Ralph Lupton, who owns Fat Man's Barbeque restaurants and who served on a county task force to study the signs, said requiring signs would fool officials into thinking they've done something about problem drinking.

"They are putting a Band-Aid on a major wound and it's not going to hold," Lupton said. He thinks educating young people early on the risks of drinking is the answer. If someone thinks signs will help, "then you do it in every licensed establishment in the entire state of Florida," whether they sell alcohol or not, Lupton said.

Members of the task force have been working since 1987.

The signs, which will be printed and distributed by Kwalick's health unit employees, go on to say, "Reduce your risks. Do not drink during pregnancy. Do not drink before driving or operating machinery. Do not mix alcohol with other drugs .

.

. It can be fatal."

Bars, restaurants, liquor stores, convenience stores, grocery stores and other establishments will be required to post the signs if the ordinance passes.

Commissioner Haven Poe said she wishes the county task force had been successful in devising some other kind of education effort.

"I don't have any trouble with it, I just question the real effect of it," she said. "If people are going into lounges, they're going to get a drink."

Don Krause, promotions director for Stingers night club, said he doesn't think the signs will have any effect on business.

"It might put in their mind a little bit of caution," he said. "Maybe they won't have the 20th one."

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