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Alcohol Issues Insights

Ironically, but predictably, while the science supporting benefits of moderate alcohol consumption continues to build (see our last newsletter), so does the skepticism about that science and whether/how to share that information with the public.  NBC News published a very positive piece in early August: “7 Science-Backed Ways Beer Is Good for Your Health.”  From the outset, NBC stressed moderation and defined it with the Dietary Guidelines, 1 drink per day for women, up to 2 drinks/day for men.   Among the benefits NBC shared: nutritional contribution (protein, B vitamins, phosphorus, folate and niacin); reduced risks of diabetes, cardiovascular disease; improved cognitive function; reduced inflammation; stronger bones; longer life; cleaner teeth.  Other than the last (new to us) these benefits have significant scientific support and will be familiar to readers of AII, again bolstered by very recent studies. NBC included references to over a half dozen specific studies/journal articles in its review.  That wasn’t enough for the watchdogs at HealthNewsReview.org, a group of medical professionals and journalists who aim to “improve the public dialogue” about health care and assist consumers to “critically analyze” health claims made in the media, marketing etc.  Within days of the NBC report, the site published “3…

Publishing Info

  • Year 2017
  • Volume 34
  • Issue # 28
The debate over reducing legal BAC driving limits to .05 in North America continues.  In Canada, a federal justice Minister recommended a nationwide .05 limit earlier this year (.08 is the limit in Canada, but most provinces already levy penalties for drivers over .05).  Several Canadian newspapers picked up the debate earlier this week, quoting Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould’s supporting arguments and several industry-based criticisms of the proposal.  She defended a federal limit of .05 as a way to “better respond to the dangers posed by impaired drivers,” by sending a “stronger message” to all drivers.  Recent scientific data, she claims, suggests that earlier research had “underestimated the fatal crash risk” of driving at lower BAC levels.  She also pointed to the experience in Ireland where lower BAC levels resulted in significant declines in fatal crashes and criminal charges.  (Interestingly, MADD Canada supports a lower BAC level, in contrast to the public position of MADD in the US.) Meanwhile, a spokesman for Quebec restaurateurs feared a “significant drop in total revenues” that would result from the policy change, as “celebrations, parties, all that will be done at home as people change their behavior.  It’s easy to talk about taking a taxi…

Publishing Info

  • Year 2017
  • Volume 34
  • Issue # 26
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
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