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Alcohol Issues Insights

With the US government preparing the 2016 traffic fatality statistics for release soon, the Center for Alcohol Policy (CAP) hosted veteran researcher Jim Fell and NHTSA’s Chief Safety Scientist Joseph Kolly to explore “The Future of Impaired Driving Countermeasures” at the CAP conference last week.  Kolly reminded that the dramatic progress in reducing annual alcohol-impaired crash deaths from over 21,000 in 1982 to under 10,000 in 2011 has stalled over the last 5 years or so.  And while the number of alcohol-impaired crash deaths hasn’t changed in recent years, the percentage of all drivers involved in fatal crashes with a BAC of .08 or higher hasn’t changed in two decades, stuck at approximately 20%, though down from over 1/3 in 1982. Can technology bring back a sharp reduction, or possibly eliminate, alcohol-impaired driving deaths?  MADD and other safety groups seem to believe so.  NHTSA, along with private partners in the auto industry, hope the DADSS system will ultimately prevent any impaired person from starting or operating a vehicle.  They seek a quick, accurate, reliable, low-cost solution that can “instantly” tell whether a driver is impaired, Kolly pointed out.  Possibilities include a breath- or touch-based detection system, or, ultimately, automated vehicles…

Publishing Info

  • Year 2017
  • Volume 34
  • Issue # 29
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
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
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