The presence of soft drink vending machines in schools has become an issue in efforts to curb childhood obesity. But a different kind of beverage machine has sparked debate at the University of Pennsylvania.

It all began when a vending machine that dispenses wine was placed in a supermarket that serves the University of Pennsylvania campus. With underage and binge drinking still a major problem on many college campuses, the wine machine has drawn fire.

But the opposition is coming from an unexpected source. David Wanamaker, President, and Michael Dusak, Vice-President of the Pennsylvania Independent State Store Union, have fired off a letter to the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board, denouncing the decision.

The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board placement of a wine vending machine in a supermarket servicing the University of Pennsylvania campus only underscores the hypocrisy of the PLCB's underage drinking prevention program, the letter states.

The union chided the PLCB, asking whether it intends to extend the amenity to every college campus in Pennsylvania. The union, of course, represents the people who sell wine, beer and liquor in liquor stores, rather than machines.

Safety issue

The union claims the PLCB is too closely aligned with the liquor industry. Noting the dangers of underage drinking on campus, the letter asks are we to assume the alcohol beverage industry represented by the PLCB will make the campus safer with the addition of a wine vending machine?

The day before Fresh Grocer received a permit to obtain a wine vending machine, the PLCB issued a press release touting the nearly $1 million in grant money it awarded to local communities and college/university campuses to fight underage and dangerous drinking among Pennsylvania's youth, the letter concludes. The placement of a wine vending machine at the University of Penn's Fresh Grocer makes a cynical joke of the PLCB/industry hypocritical alcohol education/prevention programs.

With more grocery stores offering automated checkout, alcoholic beverage vending machines might not be an unexpected development. To use the machine customers must insert their driver's license. Their identity is then verified with cameras.

If their identity checks out, customers must also breath into a breathalyzer to make sure they aren't already impaired. Unless they pass these tests, the sale is cancelled.

The machines were tested in Pennsylvania earlier this year and the state says it plans to allow installation of as many as 100 units across the state.