USA: Alcohol Policy Changes Favor Big Alcohol, Not Public Health, Safety
Sweeping the country are changes to alcohol laws on all levels that favor the profit interest of the alcohol industry and disregard adverse effects of easily available, cheap alcohol that is widely promoted without any public health considerations.
Alcohol harm is pervasive in the United States and is fueling the decline of life-expectancy documented in the last two years. However, alcohol industry lobbying power is also pervasive and so alcohol policy measures are being watered down, weakened and disbanded all-together leading to an increase in alcohol availability across the country.
Pervasive alcohol harm
For instance, in April it was reported that new data from the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD) shows that almost 20 million people in the United States suffer from an alcohol use disorder. This translates to 1 in 12 people suffering from alcohol use disorder. 7 million children grow up in families with parental alcohol use disorder. More than 50% adults have a family history of alcohol use disorder.
Alcohol harm starts very early in the United States
In September 2017, new SAMHSA data showed pervasive alcohol harm that starts early in the life of millions of Americans. Although nearly half of children aged 12 years or older live alcohol-free, the levels of alcohol harm, including alcohol use disorders are of epidemic proportions. 136.7 million Americans aged 12 or older reported current use of alcohol, which corresponds to alcohol use in the past month by slightly more than half (50.7%) of people aged 12 or older. This group includes 65.3 million who reported binge alcohol use in the past month and 16.3 million who reported heavy alcohol use in the past month.
Almost a quarter of people older than 12 years of age in the United States are current binge alcohol users (24.2%).
About 1.2 million adolescents aged 12 to 17 were past month binge alcohol users, which corresponds to 4.9% of adolescents. Thus, about 1 in 20 adolescents aged 12 to 17 in 2016 were current binge alcohol users.
In the United States, all 50 federal states and the District of Columbia currently prohibit possession of alcoholic beverages by individuals below the age of 21, and most prohibit underage consumption (i.e., consumption of alcoholic beverages prior to the age of 21).
Nevertheless, in 2016, about 1 in 5 underage individuals aged 12 to 20 were current alcohol users. About 7.3 million people aged 12 to 20 reported consuming alcohol in the past month, which represents 19.3% of 12 to 20 year olds, and including 4.5 million who reported binge alcohol use and 1.1 million who reported heavy alcohol use.
An estimated 15.1 million people aged 12 or older had an alcohol use disorder in 2016, which represents 5.6% of people aged 12 or older.
2% of adolescents in the United States, or an estimated 488,000 adolescents aged 12 to 17 in 2016 had a past year alcohol use disorder.
A massive societal problem
In the United States an estimated 88,000 people (approximately 62,000 men and 26,000 women) die from alcohol-related causes annually, making alcohol the fourth leading preventable cause of death in the United States. The costs of alcohol harm to the US economy amount to $249 billion every year. And alcohol harm fuels other major societal problems like the opioid crisis: A new study by the CDC reports more than 4.2 million Americans who misused prescription opioids between 2012 and 2014 also engaged in binge alcohol use. People who binged on alcohol were nearly twice as likely to misuse prescription opioids as abstainers.
And over the past decade, young adults from the millennial generation were more likely to die from alcohol, other drugs and suicide – the so-called “deaths of despair”. The analysis of CDC data found the increases for these three “deaths of despair” combined were higher for millennials than for Baby Boomers and senior citizens.
United States Congress
Despite the reality of this burden of alcohol-related harm, law makers are giving in to alcohol industry lobbying to further weaken, water down and disband alcohol policy measures. The examples range from US colleges, to federal states across the country, to Amazon.
The only alcohol policy making that seems to be going on is in favor of the alcohol industry, promoting private profit interests. The public health and social justice dimension is absent from these attempts – despite overwhelming evidence of how alcohol is decimating families, communities and eroding economic productivity and sustainability.
For example, a majority of senators in the U.S. Congress are supporting a bill that can make the massive excise tax break permanent for Big Alcohol. It’s good news for Big Alcohol and bad news for public health and safety in the United States.
The bill in question is the 2019 version of the Craft Beverage Modernization and Tax Reform Act (CBMTRA). The legislation seeks to make permanent the two years of tax breaks that alcohol producers and importers received as part of the so called Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which would expire at the end of 2019.
Big Alcohol is lobbying aggressively to make sure this tax break will become permanent. The bill has already gained support from 28 Democrats, 22 Republicans and one Independent as co-sponsors in the Senate, and 86 Republicans and 70 Democrats in the House of Representatives.
Bill introduced in Congress to permit shipments of alcohol by US Postal Service. On May 3, US Representative Jackie Speier (D-CA) introduced a bill that would end the existing ban on shipments of alcohol by the US Postal Service.
In 2016, California was America’s top destination for the direct shipment of wine, yet consumers and manufacturers are prohibited from using the US Postal Service to ship or deliver these everyday products,” Speier said.
In most states, private carriers such as FedEx and UPS are already delivering alcoholic beverages. It makes no sense to create a competitive disadvantage for the USPS by barring them from these kinds of shipments, especially given the Postal Service’s dire financial condition.”
The market for the shipment of alcohol in the United States is estimated at $3 billion annually. Representative Speier has introduced this proposal several times before, without success.
Virginia restaurants and bars will be able to advertise lower alcoholic drink prices for happy hour starting July 1.
That’s when a new state law goes into effect weakening alcohol price regulations that are recommended by the World Health Organization. As of now, Virginia restaurants are not allowed to advertise specific prices of particular alcoholic drinks, nor can they use any language in their ads other than “happy hour” and “drink special.”
After July 1, phrases like “Wine Wednesdays” will be allowed in Virginia, and the alcohol industry will be allowed to market price promotions. Some alcohol policy protections remain in place: two-for-one alcoholic drink specials are outlawed, and no “happy hour” can occur after 9 pm.
Louisiana moves to permit delivery of alcohol to private homes.
Under a law that is nearing final approval in Louisiana, adults will be able to receive deliveries of alcoholic beverages to their homes. Both houses of the legislature approved the bill June 2, and it now goes to the governor for signature.
Under the bill, alcohol retailers will be able to deliver factory-sealed beverages to residences during authorized store hours. Among many restrictions in the law, stores will not be allowed to deliver alcoholic beverages to a campus address, and the delivery person must verify the legal age of the recipient.
Connecticut significantly weakens its alcohol laws.
A new law passed June 1 by the Connecticut legislature, which takes effect in 2020. Distilleries will be able to serve liquor from their own taprooms, which breweries and wineries can already do. Previously, distilleries were limited to two-ounce pours on site.
Among other changes, breweries will be able to sell four cases of 12-ounce beers to consumers from their locations, as opposed to just 19 cans before the new law. A leading supporter in the Connecticut legislature said:
The goal of the liquor act was to bring Connecticut’s liquor laws into the 21st century. They haven’t been adjusted since Prohibition times, and this really address the concerns of the expanding beer industry, distilleries and the wine industry in our state.”
The alcohol policy changes in Connecticut clearly show that the profit interests of the alcohol industry are given priority over public health, safety and social justice issues.
The Texas Senate unanimously passed a major bill that would change the state’s alcohol laws, including an amendment that would permit a majority of the state’s small in-state manufacturing breweries to sell their beers for off-premise consumption. The bill is expected to pass the state House of Representatives soon and to advance to Governor Greg Abbott for signature.
Texas is now the only state in the United States that does not allow beer to-go sales at manufacturing breweries. The bill succeeded in the Senate after the Wholesale Beer Distributors of Texas, a powerful lobbying group, agreed to back it. In February, the Texas Craft Brewers Guild and the other Texan wholesalers group, the Beer Alliance of Texas, also reached an agreement on to-go sales.
Powdered alcohol attracts lawmakers’ concerns
Powdered alcohol seems to be the only alcoholic product that is viewed from a public health perspective, as lawmakers and communities attempt to ban the product.
A May 10 article in the St. Joseph, Missouri News-Press notes that to date, 34 states and the District of Columbia have banned powdered alcohol, a product developed in 2007 and initially approved by the federal government in 2015.
The powder, marketed under the brand name Palcohol, comes in several cocktail flavors and can be mixed with water or other liquids.
However, two-thirds of US states have now banned any form of it because it is so easy to transport and conceal and is thought to facilitate underage alcohol use and binge alcohol consumption. The News-Press notes that, while powdered alcohol remains legal in Missouri, a bill to add it to the definition of “intoxicating beverage” was overwhelmingly passed by the state senate on April 11.