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Alcohol Issues Insights

A study of nearly 2 mil UK adults published last week in the British Medical Journal found that non-drinkers had significantly higher risks than moderate drinkers, 23-33% higher in fact, for coronary heart disease and cardiovascular disease.  At the same time, non-drinkers had higher rates of all-cause mortality than moderate drinkers and occasional drinkers.   Moderate drinkers did not have lower risks for every one of the 12 specific conditions investigated, the authors point out.   But they did for most and for the most common ones.  Heavier drinkers had higher risks for many of the specific cardiovascular diseases than non-drinkers, though still lower risks for myocardial infarction and angina. The conclusion of this “most comprehensive study to date of the relation between alcohol consumption and risk of cardiovascular disease,” as the authors called it, is basically the same as many previous studies covered over the years in Alcohol Issues INSIGHTS: light/moderate drinkers have lower risk for several significant cardiovascular diseases than abstainers.  Indeed, in an editorial comment in the same issue of the British Medical Journal, Harvard’s Kenneth Mukamal points out that the new study supports work from “over four decades ago,” by Dr. Arthur Klatsky in California and “does not…

Publishing Info

  • Year 2017
  • Volume 34
  • Issue # 11
The new UK study received extensive coverage in the UK press, more sporadic attention in the US.  Most journalists included both the major findings and the authors’ reluctance to advise drinking for health reasons.  One prominent observer of alcohol policy issues, whose work we’ve cited on several occasions, Christopher Snowdon, could not resist.  The columnist for The Spectator, research fellow for UK’s Institute of Economic Affairs and self-proclaimed critic of the Nanny State asked and answered a pertinent question about this “latest in a long line of studies stretching over 5 decades”: Why won’t public health admit that moderate drinking is good for the heart?  Two reasons, Snowdon explains: 1) “the public health lobby fears that non-drinkers will become alcoholics if they are advised to have a glass of wine. Put simply, they don’t trust us”;   2) many public health campaigners “think that alcohol is the new smoking and want to co-opt the ‘no safe level’ slogan that’s worked so well in the war on tobacco.”  This helps explain why the study’s authors and public health officials stress that diet and exercise are safer ways to reduce cardiovascular risks. Snowdon also explains why public health’s stance matters.  “It matters because…

Publishing Info

  • Year 2017
  • Volume 34
  • Issue # 3
The Utah legislature passed a law Wednesday lowering the legal BAC limit for driving from 0.08 to 0.05, reports AP and others.  Gov. Gary Herbert has expressed support for the measure.  Other supporters of the Utah legislation claim it will save lives and make the argument that impairment “begins with the first drink,” as we’ve reported.  The American Beverage Institute’s (ABI) Sarah Longwell pointed out that over 3/4 of alcohol-related highway deaths, in UT and elsewhere, involve drivers with BACs of 0.15 and above.  A BAC limit of 0.05, ABI also argues, punishes responsible drinkers and will “do almost nothing in the effort to reduce traffic fatalities,” as less than 1% of fatalities involve drivers between 0.05 and 0.08, ABI’s Rick Berman pointed out in an op-ed published by Washington Times on Feb 28.  Longwell and Berman also note that a 150-lb male reaches 0.05 at two beers, a 120-lb female could be there after a single drink.  A 0.05 bill “recently died” in Hawaii, but Washington’s bill remains alive, reports Chicago Tribune. Meanwhile, some local government officials in England and Wales are advocating to reduce legal BACs there to 0.05, following Scotland’s adoption of the lower limit.  In a…

Publishing Info

  • Year 2017
  • Volume 34
  • Issue # 9
One key pillar of public health advocates’ attacks on industry marketing: self-regulation is not only suspect on its face (given the industry’s profit motive) but both self-serving and “ineffective.”  Those charges received both explicit and implicit support in a pair of new studies (detailed in February issue of Alcohol Issues INSIGHTS).  Just as predictably, Thomas Babor and one of his co-authors of the US study took to the pages of The Conversation for an article later picked up by Huffington Post that charged “alcohol companies used controversial marketing in their 2017 Super Bowl Commercials.” In shades of the 1990s, Babor and his colleague ripped into the return of Spuds Mackenzie for one of AB’s Bud Light ads.  They also criticized a Yellow Tail  commercial which “prominently featured a humanized kangaroo. . .which was the subject of sexually suggestive language.”  They could not resist the comparison to Joe Camel (of course) and considered the ads violations of self-regulatory guidelines (of course).  The authors pointed to a study that concluded “teens who could recall ads with a ‘party’ theme which conveys positive emotions, were four times more likely to binge drink.”  In a bizarre twist, they suggested: “That may explain why a…

Publishing Info

  • Year 2017
  • Volume 34
  • Issue # 2
Proposed excise tax hikes emerged in two more states in recent weeks.  Neither is modest.  Indeed, a pair of New Mexico legislators aim to make that state’s excise taxes the highest in the US.  They introduced bills in the House and Senate to raise the beer tax from 41 cents/gallon to $3.08 (a 7.5-fold jump), the liquor tax from $1.60/liter to $7.24, (a 4.5-fold hike) and the wine tax from 45 cents/liter to $2.14 (4.8-fold increase), reports the Sun News.  House Representative Joanne Ferrary called it a “win-win for our state budget and the health and safety of our residents.”  Back east, West Virginia’s Gov. Jim Justice proposed a “Save Our State” (SOS) budget, according to The Register-Herald, with $450.15 million in new taxes.  They include raising the beer tax from $5.50/bbl to $8 and increasing the wholesale liquor markup from 28% to 32%.  The governor claims to “hate tax increases.  I hate them,” but feels his plan is “the most painless way” to escape the state’s budget problems.  How serious is he about supporting his plan?  “I’m telling you, if you don’t do this you’re dead.  You’re dead.  You’re dead beyond belief.” In the UK, Christopher Snowdon, a journalist…

Publishing Info

  • Year 2017
  • Volume 34
  • Issue # 7
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