More effective alcohol policies ignored while less effective passed into law

									Charlie Plain |
																			October 15, 2014

What works to prevent alcohol-related deaths and binge drinking isn’t always what makes it into law. A new study finds that policymakers are significantly more likely to adopt ineffective alcohol policies than they are to adopt effective ones.

Bottles of beer on a table.
Credit: Tim Dorr via Flickr

Researchers at the University of Minnesota and Boston University tracked 29 different state alcohol control policies from 1999 through 2011 and found that that none of the policies rated to be the most effective for reducing excessive drinking were either adopted or strengthened during the study period.

During that same period they noted an increase in adoption of policies that were comparatively less effective, or that targeted only youth drinking or impaired driving.

Study findings were recently published online in the journal Addiction.

The study is the first to empirically demonstrate with real-world data what alcohol policy researchers have long suspected: that effective polices for reducing problems associated with excessive drinking are unpopular while popular policies are less effective.

“Policy makers have a range of options available to them to address excessive alcohol use and the public health problems that result,” said Toben Nelson, Sc.D.,lead author and associate professor in the School of Public Health at the University of Minnesota. “Unfortunately, the policies most often implemented tend to be the weakest.”

Researchers also found an increase in the number of new policies targeting alcohol-impaired driving and underage drinking, making the lack of change among the most effective policies stand out. According to Nelson, effective policy strategies are widely studied and have strong evidence supporting their effectiveness. Effective policies include strategies such as alcohol taxes, price restrictions at the retail and wholesale level, restrictions on the density of alcohol outlets in a particular geographic area, and restrictions on the days and hours of sale. These policies work by limiting the availability of alcohol throughout the population rather than through targeting a smaller segment of the population.

Problems associated with excessive alcohol consumption are among the leading causes of death in the United States. They also cause an estimated $220 billion in economic costs annually, including health care, criminal justice and lost productivity. Most of those costs are borne by government and industry. On this basis states may have a rationale to act to protect the public health.

“We know what policies are effective in reducing alcohol related injury, disease, death and crime,” said Timothy Naimi, M.D., associate professor of medicine at Boston University and principal investigator on the research team. “We need to look toward our policy makers to implement policies that actually make a difference, even if that means opposition from those who make money producing and selling alcohol.”

~ Post by Matt DePoint, Academic Health Center 

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