The US Surgeon General issued its first-ever report on “Alcohol, Drugs and Health” yesterday. We’ve not digested it yet, but the report adopts the language and approach of public health advocates, specifically emphasizing “the importance of implementing evidence- based public-health-focused strategies to prevent and treat alcohol and drug problems” in the US. The report’s introduction does include a statement that the US Dietary Guidelines “indicate that moderate alcohol use can be part of a healthy diet, but only when used by adults of legal drinking age.” But a chapter on “prevention programs and policies” states as a “key finding”: “federal, state and community policies designed to reduce alcohol availability and increase the costs have immediate, positive benefits in reducing drinking and binge drinking,” as well as related harms. So, the Surgeon General’s office in effect joins CDC in explicitly endorsing higher taxes and restrictions on alcohol availability. Note too: the introduction chapter includes the equivalence graphic and definition of “standard drink” as 12 oz of regular beer, 8-9 oz of malt liquor, 5 oz of wine and 1.5 oz of spirits. It also includes the government’s definition of “heavy drinking” as 8+ drinks per week for women, 14+ per week for men, levels many would actually consider moderate drinking.
Recall that industry policy watchers had been anxious about the report since they’d not seen any advance language. The Distilled Spirits Council, Beer Institute and Wine Institute put out a joint statement that noted the 3 associations “are pleased to see the Surgeon General's Report acknowledges that moderate alcohol consumption can be part of a healthy diet for adults. We also welcome the Surgeon General's efforts to destigmatize treatment and recovery for those for whom alcohol consumption is a concern.” They are less pleased with the Surgeon General’s policy directions, pointing out that “the prevailing and widely accepted research shows that one-size-fits-all policies, including advertising bans and tax increases, fail to effectively address the problem of alcohol abuse, divert resources from more targeted approaches, and unfairly and negatively impact moderate and responsible consumers.” Finally, the associations note “significant progress” in “reducing alcohol abuse, including long-term declines in drunk driving and underage drinking. More remains to be done and we stand ready to support proven strategies to combat alcohol abuse.”
This report focuses specifically on alcohol and drugs. But the Surgeon General, and others, linked it to the groundbreaking 1964 Surgeon General’s report on tobacco, which kicked off decades of anti-smoking advocacy and policy. A group of addiction organizations also released a statement, applauding the “landmark report” and its “recommendations to take a comprehensive public health approach to how our nation addressed drug and alcohol misuse and substance abuse disorders.”
We’ll report much more on the Surgeon General’s report in the November newsletter.