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UPS to seize booze if shipped illegally

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WASHINGTON — People trying to buy alcohol by mail, illegally evading state distribution systems, may now have shipments seized and smashed if they use United Parcel Service.

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, who has been fighting such direct sales of alcohol for years, is praising UPS for that new stand. And large producers of alcohol, who don't like direct sales competition from small producers, are praising both Hatch and UPS.

UPS has adopted a policy not to carry alcohol shipments that are in violation of state laws and to destroy any such shipments that it detects.

Hatch said Tuesday that is "a model for responsible handling of a socially sensitive product." He called for the entire shipping industry to adopt a similar policy.

Hatch for years has worried that minors using the Internet or mail-order catalogs can illegally order wine, beer and liquor to be sent directly to their homes, avoiding state liquor store systems and tax requirements.

He and Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.V., passed a bill signed into law this year that makes it easier for states to gain access to federal courts to enforce their laws against illegal interstate shipments.

In a letter to UPS, Hatch said direct shipments of alcohol "create an enforcement nightmare and revenue losses for states, provide easy alcohol availability for minors, and compromise product quality and safety."

Only a handful of states have reciprocal agreements that permit limited quantities of wine to be shipped directly to consumers. UPS recognizes those agreements and will deliver to consumers in those states.

Some states also allow intrastate shipments of wine, which UPS also will deliver.

UPS and Hatch were commended by the Wine and Spirits Wholesalers of America.

Juanita Duggan, chief executive officer of that group, said, "The new federal law (passed by Hatch) and the UPS policy send a strong message to those who would try to skirt state alcohol laws: Don't even try."

Large producers of wine and spirits have strongly opposed direct-sales of alcohol, saying it allows small competitors to avoid state laws, taxes and distribution systems that big producers are forced to follow.

Large beer and wine wholesalers have helped Hatch raise campaign funds because of his stand, including hosting a fund-raiser for him. That raised someeyebrows, since Hatch himself does not drink and as a former bishop in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints preaches abstinence from all alcoholic beverages.

E-mail: lee@desnews.com