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Alcohol Issues Insights

On one hand, the sea change in American attitudes toward marijuana continues alongside a wave of policy changes that expand access to the drug for both medical and recreational purposes. On the other, the necessarily slower-moving scientific community looks back at previous changes to study their impacts while also looking forward to warn of potential effects of continued change. Even though a large recent study found a significant (if not huge) increase in both illicit cannabis use and use disorders in states enacting medical marijuana laws (MML) vs those that didn’t, a growing number of states and Canada rush toward even broader access. Standing mostly on the sidelines, the alcohol beverage industry continues to wonder how legal cannabis will affect demand for various types of alcohol. So far, nothing conclusive turned up in Beer Institute economist Michael Uhrich’s analysis of beer sales in Colorado and Washington, post-legalization. While he and others consider legal weed one potential headwind for beer, as he presented at recent BI meeting, he still found more traditional factors like weather and unemployment were more likely than marijuana availability to impact beer sales at the county level. Longer-term, however, broader legalization could exacerbate existing pressures on beer…

Publishing Info

  • Year 2017
  • Volume 34
  • Issue # 24
Yet again, the annual Gallup Poll shows that the percentage of Americans who say they have ”occasion to drink” remains remarkably consistent, around 2/3 of adults, despite broader availability, increased affordability (especially wine and spirits), tons of marketing investment and a bewildering array of new products aimed at least in part at attracting new drinkers. The table below shows just how consistent key drinking trends have been over the last  three decades. In 2017, 62% of adults told Gallup they had occasion to drink, down 2 points from 2007 and up a point from 1997, all within the poll’s 4-point margin of error. Indeed, if you take an average of 64% over these 30 years, no single year is outside that 4-point margin.   And while per capita alcohol consumption inched up slightly over this 30-year this period, about 2 drinks or so per drinker per month, we calculate, the Gallup figures also suggest slight increases in daily drinking and average weekly consumption.  The percentage of drinkers who said they’d had their last drink within 24 hours edged up from 33% in 1997 to 37% this year.  And the percentage of drinkers who’d had 1-3 drinks per day increased very slightly.…

Publishing Info

  • Year 2017
  • Volume 34
  • Issue # 7
Just as Alcohol Justice and other public health advocates noted the attempt to reduce federal excise taxes on beer, wine and spirits and criticized that effort (see last Update), public health is taking note of state initiatives to reform laws and regulations. And they want to provide input.  In Massachusetts, a task force created by state Treasurer Deborah Goldberg has begun its review of all of the state’s alcohol beverage laws.  The task force itself includes mostly attorneys without links to the industry, though the Boston Globe reports that there will be “advisory committees” of industry members to provide input.  Public health wants the same.   One reason such regulatory reviews have had limited success in the past is that once the law is opened up, the possibility of unwanted outcomes and unintended consequences increases.

Publishing Info

  • Year 2017
  • Volume 34
  • Issue # 20
Just as sponsors of Utah’s reduction of the legal BAC for driving to 0.05 aren’t budging on the law or the limit (see May 22 Update), nor is the American Beverage Institute backing off its very public criticism of the change.  In addition to ads running in Utah media, ABI is also running full-page ads in neighboring states featuring a mug shot of a woman with the text “Utah: Come for vacation, leave on probation,” reports the LA Times.  More ads are reportedly on the way targeting tourists to think twice before vacationing in Utah.  “Our ad isn’t provocative,” said ABI’s Sarah Longwell.  “It’s the truth. What they are doing is provocative.”   Tourism is an estimated $8.1 billion industry in Utah and the director of the state’s Office of Tourism  acknowledges ABI’s ads “could have some impact.  There is no question.”  Recall, Governor Gary Herbert said he’d support tweaks to the law to prevent “unintended consequences.”  And there has been talk of making driving between 0.05 and 0.07 BAC an “infraction” rather than  a DUI charge.  That’s still a possibility, as is repeal, since the law does not go into effect until December 31, 2018. What’s More Dangerous in the…

Publishing Info

  • Year 2017
  • Volume 34
  • Issue # 19
Economic, scientific and legal nitty-gritty needed to discuss excise taxes or heart health all point to the particular thorniness of alcohol policy. But the gruesome details of Timothy Piazza’s death in a hospital near Penn State University, following injuries sustained during a hazing-driven night of heavy drinking, cut a few levels deeper. Those details became public as national news when a grand jury ruled Piazza’s death “the direct result of encouraged reckless conduct” early this month. Eighteen members of the now-banned Penn State chapter of Beta Theta Pi fraternity face criminal charges, including 8 for involuntary manslaughter. Responses to the specifics of this case and these charges reveal it as not just an indictment of 18 college students, but of hazing and fraternity culture itself. But it doesn’t stop there. “For anyone looking across the national landscape, you realize that we have a national problem that is associated with excessive drinking,” Penn State president Eric Barron said following the grand jury report. Barron’s comment reads as part deflection, part undeniable truth. College drinking rates across the US, including for binge drinking and other indicators of dangerous consumption patterns, remain stubbornly high. Turn momentarily to Whiteclay, Nebraska, where state regulators recently…

Publishing Info

  • Year 2017
  • Volume 34
  • Issue # 5
Just as public health researchers/advocates apply familiar arguments regarding negative effects of pot availability (see last Update), alcohol excises taxes and movie placements continue to attract their attention.  Actually, resistance from public health to the industry-wide attempt to reduce federal excise taxes on beer, wine and spirits – via the Craft Beverage Modernization and Tax Reform Act – has been relatively muted so far.  But Alcohol Justice and the Center of Alcohol Marketing and Youth have taken note.  Interestingly, they recently targeted the proposed tax break for vintners, who traditionally escape the advocates’ wrath, more often directed toward brewers and distillers.  But “Tax Break for High-Alcohol Wine Sours Health Advocates,” fairwarning.org headlined earlier this week. The article quotes veteran public health advocates from the aforementioned groups, Michael Scippa and David Jernigan, respectively.  They (and others) criticize the proposed tax bill for reducing the federal tax on wine over 16% ABV from the current level of $1.57 per gallon to $1.07 per gallon, the same rate currently assessed on wines of 14% or lower ABV.  The proposal “has health advocates seeing red,” the investigative reporting organization could not resist noting.   Indeed, “overnight, people would have about 18% more alcohol in the…

Publishing Info

  • Year 2017
  • Volume 34
  • Issue # 16
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