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Alcohol Issues Insights

As state legislators return to work and governors face budget shortfalls, alcohol taxes and alcohol policy are much in the news.   At least three alcohol tax hikes were proposed in recent weeks.  Ohio Governor John Kasich included a penny/drink wine and beer tax increase last week, in an attempt to “reflect inflation since the last increase in 1992,” reports the Toledo Blade.  Earlier, Kansas Governor Sam Brownback proposed doubling the sales tax on alcohol from 8% to 16%.  And a Wyoming House Committee passed a bill that would increase wine taxes from 28 cents/gallon to 72 cents/gallon, liquor taxes from 94 cents/gallon to $3.73/gallon and beer taxes from 2 cents/gallon to 20 cents/gallon.  The bill also earmarks 78% of the alcohol beverage tax revenue for education funding.   Meanwhile, on the federal level, sponsors of an across-the-board tax reduction on beer, wine and spirits excise taxes has been re-introduced in the new Congress. At the same time, broad alcohol regulation reviews are underway in several states.  A task force in Massachusetts will examine the state’s “antiquated” alcohol beverage laws, as state Treasurer Deborah Goldberg dubbed them.  One possibility: expanding the state’s alcohol beverage control commission’s mission to include marijuana regulation, reports…

Publishing Info

  • Year 2017
  • Volume 34
  • Issue # 5
That drinking alcohol enables and enhances sociability is no mystery to generations of alcohol producers, marketers and drinkers worldwide, not to mention anyone who has ever seen an episode of Cheers.  But it’s nice to have some science to support this obvious observation, especially when so many now cast doubt on other benefits of moderate drinking.  A group of researchers from Oxford University’s psychology department reviewed findings from a national survey of UK adults about their drinking habits and social connections, and two studies of on-premise drinking.  These studies compared behavioral reports and observations of drinkers in “locals” (small pubs) and large city-centre bars.  The basic questions they sought to answer: why did humans start drinking alcohol and why they “continue to use it so widely,” despite the negative consequences of overuse?  Their findings were predictably positive for social drinkers and especially for pub patrons.  Among the highlights: On measures of happiness, satisfaction with life, feelings of being worthwhile, connection to the local community and trust in other people, drinkers scored higher than non-drinkers across the board.  And those who frequented locals scored higher than those who frequented larger bars on several measures.  Drinkers who “have a ‘local’ that they…

Publishing Info

  • Year 2017
  • Volume 34
  • Issue # 1
Parents supplying alcohol to their young teens remains a controversial, but relatively common practice.  And just as a Canadian study recently found that early drinking experience may not in and of itself be a harbinger of later problems (unlike early drunkenness – see December newsletter) a new study from Australia found that children of parents who supply alcohol in the home are less likely to binge drink, and tend to drink less, than teens who get their alcohol from sources other than their parents.  The study followed 1,927 teens (average age 13 at the beginning of the study), over 4 years.    About 1/3 of the teens reported their parents supplied alcohol, the same as in other studies from the US, Europe and Australia, the authors found.  The key measures: consumption of “whole” drinks and rates of binge drinking in later years.  The key findings, after the results were adjusted for factors like parental consumption, parental monitoring, religiosity, household make-up (one parent, two parent, etc), personality and other factors: parental supply was strongly associated with drinking, but not with binge drinking or heavy drinking. Specifically: “Parental supply at any wave was associated with doubled odds of drinking at subsequent waves, but was…

Publishing Info

  • Year 2017
  • Volume 34
  • Issue # 2
The attempt to levy a special 2% tax on alcohol beverages in Boston (see last Update) went down to defeat for the second straight year, the Distilled Spirits Council pointed out.   Recall, the proposed tax was earmarked for substance abuse treatment.  But the tax “remains unpopular among Boston residents,” the Council’s Jay Hibbard pointed out.  Taxes already make up nearly half (47%) of retail spirits prices in Massachusetts, the Council figures.  It could be worse.  Despite a few years of tax relief in the United Kingdom, “more than three quarters – 77% ‒  of the average price paid for a bottle of whisky is tax,” according to the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA).  How’s that?  The average price for a 70cl bottle of Scotch is now £12.80.  Excise tax is £7.75 and VAT is £2.13, for just under £10 per bottle.  Note too: Distilled Spirits Council uses a broader definition of “tax” than SWA. Back in the states, Alaska state legislators are preparing a broad reform of the state’s alcohol laws. The effort to redraft the key state statute that regulates the business has been underway since 2012, reports the Juneau Empire, but only a few changes actually passed. Meanwhile, there…

Publishing Info

  • Year 2016
  • Volume 33
  • Issue # 40
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…

Publishing Info

  • Year 2016
  • Volume 33
  • Issue # 37
For decades, public health activists have targeted beer ads for ubiquity, specific messages they find offensive, alleged appeal to youth and more. Their efforts to restrict ads and/or alter the messaging consistently fail in the courts (often due to 1st Amendment issues), before legislatures and, we'd submit, in the court of public opinion. The US Federal Trade Commission has supported and praised self-regulation in this area, even while suggesting tweaks to voluntary ad codes. The Beer Institute, Distilled Spirits Council and Wine Institute code review boards receive very few complaints and very rarely find ads that violate the codes, yet another sign that self-regulation works. Even the most vocal critics refrain from making complaints to these boards about specific ads, likely knowing they have no case and not wishing to become part of a process that so clearly works. (Note: this same article appeared in our INSIGHTS Express letter.) Case in point. Between January 2014 and June 2016, Beer Institute got a grand total of 2 complaints about beer ads. Both involved AB Super Bowl ads for Bud Light, one in 2014 and one in 2016. Reading the extensive report prepared by BI's 3-member review board shows they meticulously analyzed…

Publishing Info

  • Year 2016
  • Volume 33
  • Issue # 7
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