Alcohol use has been rising in the United States (U.S.) for the past two decades. And the COVID-19 pandemic has made matters even worse. For instance, the use of alcohol to cope with pandemic stressors has been rising in the U.S. – driven by the alcohol industry’s pandemic centric marketing and systematic lobby campaign for the weakening of state alcohol policies. The acceleration of alcohol use and harm is specifically affecting women and youth.
One of the many harmful effects of the products and practices of the alcohol industry is the fueling of violence.
During the pandemic news reports show that homicides have been rising. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates (during non-pandemic times) that 47% of homicides are due to alcohol.
At a community level, studies show a high number of alcohol outlets in neighborhoods leads to more violence while a lower number of outlets and reduced trading hours decrease violence. Clearly, reducing alcohol outlets is a proven policy solution to decrease violence.
Unfortunately, during the COVID-19 pandemic many federal states have made alcohol more easily and widely available. This includes providing “essential” status to alcohol, thus allowing off-premise alcohol sale, such as through alcohol outlets, supermarkets as well as on-demand delivery to continue and even increase during the pandemic.
Such policy decisions contradict and ignore the science that has proven that alcohol purchased off-premise, such as at a liquor store, is twice as likely to be associated with violence.
According to a Movendi International analysis, the alcohol industry has pushed and succeeded in weakening alcohol laws including on alcohol delivery and alcohol take away in numerous states. These states include Alaska, California, Colorado, the District of Columbia, Kentucky, Maryland, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, Texas, Vermont or Wisconsin.
Alcohol policy solutions for cities to reduce violence
CityHealth, an initiative of the de Beaumont Foundation and Kaiser Permanente is promoting a package of proven alcohol policy solutions for cities in the United States. The package will help millions of people live longer, better lives in vibrant, prosperous communities.
One of the policy areas in focus of the initiative is safer alcohol sales. Cities can use local alcohol regulations from licensing to zoning in order to prevent and reduce alcohol violence.
There are three domains these policies can be implemented in:
- Cities can use their nuisance powers to shut down or mandate changes in the practices of poorly run alcohol outlets.
- For example, Omaha’s city ordinances include specific nuisance-abatement performance standards for alcohol outlets.
- Cities can use their land use powers to influence where and when alcohol is sold within their borders.
- For example, city ordinances of Oakland, California give it the power to grant or deny land use for new alcohol outlets.
- Cities that share some degree of authority with states over the licensing of alcohol outlets, can use the power of license restrictions or conditions to change where, when and how alcohol is sold.
- For example, in the early 2000s Atlanta used its joint licensing authority to reduce the number of alcohol outlets in the Buckhead neighborhood.