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NEWSLETTER | August 2012 | Campaign for a Healthy Alcohol Marketplace

Apathy About Alcohol Harm is Infecting the Nation!
by Pamela S. Erickson

A top health authority has called excessive alcohol use “a largely unrecognized public health problem.” The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) noted that more than 15 percent of U.S. adults, or 33 million Americans, report binge drinking in the past 30 days.  And, the percentage of adults who binge has not declined for more than 15 years. Alcohol misuse, including binge and underage drinking, is the nation’s third leading cause of preventable death, responsible for more than 79,000 deaths annually and a wide range of health problems. Beyond the human costs, excessive alcohol use also has a tremendous economic cost, with a $185 billion annual price tag in health care and criminal justice expenses and lost productivity, the CDC reported.

Alcohol’s potential for harm is clear. And yet, apathy and a normalization of alcohol appear to have set in. Some examples help illustrate the point. In a public radio interview about legislation to expand alcohol sales in Connecticut, a state representative noted the flexibility it would give liquor store owners to sell on Sundays, the millions in additional tax revenue that was expected and the convenience for consumers. “It’s also about the consumer,” she said. When the question arose about whether the legislation was, in effect, asking consumers to drink more alcohol to raise revenue, she responded that the revenue estimate is based on Connecticut residents not migrating to neighboring states to spend their alcohol money. There was little, if any, mention of the potential public safety and health impacts. Elsewhere, the wine buyer for Costco, effectively equated wine with any other product during a recent media interview.  That company is one of the world’s largest purveyors of wine and recently bankrolled a successful Washington state ballot initiative that deregulated wine and spirits. The Washington initiative is part of a disturbing trend. As noted in the recently released report “The Dangers of Alcohol Deregulation: The United Kingdom Experience 2012 Update,” large grocery corporations in the U.S. are lobbying and filing lawsuits to deregulate, convincing many elected officials that such changes will bring increased revenue to public coffers and do little harm. But both of these assumptions are highly questionable. Despite increasing pressure to sell it “like tires and mayonnaise” at retail establishments, alcohol is a unique product precisely because of its potential harm. Due to that, it should be marketed and sold with care, based on the three-tiered regulatory system designed to foster moderation and prevent sales practices that lead to abuse. Indeed, this system is effective at preventing fake/tainted alcohol, efficiently collecting taxes and balancing prices. Rather than focus on increased alcohol deregulation, we as a society should look to build on the successes we’ve achieved within the context of the current system. Both underage drinking and drunk driving deaths are at record lows in the U.S. It’s a time to continue, not hamper, that momentum. It’s worth repeating that nearly 80,000 deaths nationwide are attributed to alcohol misuse, yet the enormous toll gets little attention. Any other tragedy that led to such a tremendous loss of life would make headlines. Any death due to excessive alcohol use is one too many. And all of us - citizens, business owners, substance abuse prevention and treatment advocates, public health authorities, and elected officials - have important roles to play to keep apathy of alcohol’s harms at bay. A conference where all sides of alcohol policy issues will be aired! When do you get great debates from representatives of industry, law enforcement, attorneys general and public health?  Unfortunately, it’s rare.  But the Alcohol Law Symposium is one of those opportunities.  Don’t think you have to be a lawyer to attend! It’s valuable for anyone who works in the alcohol regulatory or public health field.  There are rock stars from public health such as Jim Mosher (Alcohol Policy Consultations), Jan Withers (National President of MADD) and Bruce Livingston (Alcohol Justice, formerly the Marin Institute). And the president of the National Association of Attorneys General, Doug Gansler from Maryland, is the keynote speaker.  And, then there is Jerry Oliver, former chief of police in Detroit, Richmond and Pasadena and Andy Acord, the Deputy Police Chief from Dallas.  I am coordinating a panel on alcohol pricing policies.  The conference is September 9-11 in Dallas.  For more information and to register, go to  Don’t miss this one.


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This website was developed,  in part, under a grant number SP 14395-07 from the Office of National Drug Control Policy and Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The views, policies, and opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of ONDCP, SAMHSA or HHS.