Archive for June, 2008

This week in 1933: Liquor flows freely in MA, IN, and NY

Friday, June 27th, 2008

This week 75 years ago was a busy one in the fight for Prohibition repeal.  On June 26, 1933, Massachusetts and Indiana both held state conventions officially ratifying the 21st Amendment.  New York followed on June 27, breezing through their ratifying convention after a landslide vote of 89% of voters in favor of Repeal.  With ratification complete in nine states, the wet cause had a quarter of the states it needed to ensure repeal, with support and enthusiasm growing every day. 



For a first hand report on the Prohibition experience in Indiana, check out this coverage in the Gary, IN Post Tribune.  The New York Sun featured an editorial celebrating repeal in New York City.  [CR] Reasearch Assistant Michael Libertin will be busy this summer gathering Prohibition lore from all corners of the nation, so be sure to check back soon to our growing Repeal site. 

Study: Kids Receiving Alcohol from Parents and Other Adults

Thursday, June 26th, 2008

The results of a nationwide survey looking at the social context of underage alcohol use, performed by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, were released today.  This National Survey on Drug Use and Health looked at many aspects of alcohol use and drinking behaviors amongst 12-20 year olds, and the major finding capturing the headlines is that underage drinkers are obtaining alcohol from adults, including parents and guardians.  Blaming parents and adult family members for underage alcohol use and labeling them as “enablers” may be a hasty conclusion, however.  The study indicates that 40% of underage drinkers obtained alcohol from an adult (someone over 21) for free in the past month.  However, one in four youths received alcohol from an unknown adult, and only one in twelve youths received alcohol from a parent or guardian. 


More importantly, the study does not clearly specify how parents are giving their kids alcohol.  A glass of wine at a family dinner might be statistically the same as a mother buying a keg for a son’s graduation party; however, the implications of these actions are much different.  Conclusions from the study stress that parents should be involved by providing proper guidance and ensuring their kids’ safety by preventing them from the dangerous act of drinking.  Is it possible, however, that allowing a son or daughter a glass of wine with dinner helps teach responsible drinking, and thus can be considered parental guidance?  A recent Time Magazine article discussed in a June 20th post does an excellent job debating this issue.

In general, we are having a hard time seeing how the results of this study support a legal age 21.  Kids are finding alcohol and drinking underage, and one in five underage drinkers have binged at least once in the last month.  Moreover, this drinking is happening in private, unsupervised locations, and over half of underage drinkers have drank in someone else’s room or house during the past month.  If you ask us, that is more scary than the fact that some youths are sharing a beer with mom and dad. 

We encourage you to visit this ABC article for more information, links, and comments.

Scare Tactics Used to Prevent Drunk Driving

Monday, June 23rd, 2008

We were shocked to read about last month’s scandal at El Camino high school in

San Diego, CA, where highway patrol officers visited the school one Monday and told students that many of their classmates had been killed in drunk driving crashes over the weekend.  The news frightened students, resulting in a hysterical frenzy in classrooms and hallways as students grieved for 26 of their classmates, who they believed had died.  Later in the day, the “dead” students returned to school, revealing that the entire plan was a hoax that was intended to scare students away from drinking and driving.  School officials claim that scare tactics, like this, are effective in preventing dangerous behavior:  “[Students] were traumatized, but we wanted them to be traumatized,” said guidance counselor Lori Tauber.  “That’s how they get the message.”  However, putting severe psychological distress on students is an unethical and irresponsible way to try and teach a positive message about drinking.  The community would be much better served by trying to teach students about responsible and safe drinking, so that they can make educated choices about drinking and driving.  When a student learns about the consequences of drinking and driving, that knowledge will stay with them for life.  Scare tactics, on the other hand, create fears that can fade over time, possibly leading to dangerous decisions in the future. 

“Should You Drink with Your Kids?”

Friday, June 20th, 2008

Should You Drink with Your Kids?,” published in the June 30th Issue of Time Magazine, is an insightful and balanced article on underage drinking and the drinking age.  Aside from addressing multiple points of view on the topic of underage drinking and drinking with parental supervision, we think that it does an excellent job of citing appropriate research and raising some important points about drinking and public health that are at the center of many of Choose Responsibility’s ideas.  We particularly like its attention to the problem of binge drinking and what may be contributing to increases in binge drinking rates over the last few years.  We encourage you to check out the article and, as always, we welcome your comments and questions.

Increasing the Tax on Alcopops

Wednesday, June 18th, 2008

We have previously commented on the growing popularity of “alcopops” and our concern that their advertised reputation as sweet drinks masking the taste of liquor, while delivering intoxication, makes them appeal to underage drinkers.  Alcopops are usually sold in stores’ beer aisles, also making them popular among underage drinkers, who most frequently choose beer as their drink of choice.  Large-scale consumption of these drinks by young and underage drinkers fuels the binge-drinking problem in this country, and so we were happy to read that California has recently decided to regulate and tax alcopops as distilled spirits and not as beers.  The change, which will take place in October, will tax alcopops with the current liquor tax of $3.30 per gallon, up from $0.20 per gallon, the current tax on beer.

We believe that increasing the tax on alcopops will help decrease their consumption amongst underage drinkers since a higher price tag should decrease their appeal amongst consumers.  In fact, past studies have indicated that throughout history, higher taxes on alcohol have led to a decreased likelihood of heavy drinking and binge drinking.  Higher alcohol prices have also been correlated with decreased rates of underage drinking, sexually transmitted diseases, and traffic fatalities in the past…nothing wrong with that! 

Recent comments on our May 27th, 2008 post argue that using higher taxes to deter alcohol consumption is a neo-prohibitionist approach and that focus should be placed on responsible drinking and not the type of alcohol consumed.  However, we believe that alcopops are a unique case and that increasing the tax on these beverages is an appropriate strategy to combat irresponsible drinking.  Alcopops appeal to underage and young drinkers, who are most likely to binge drink, and so making them less appealing by raising their price targets irresponsible drinking within this age group.  This, coupled with the fact that studies have shown that higher prices deter alcohol abuse, suggests that increasing the tax on alcopops will be effective in reducing irresponsible binge drinking.  Of course, we hope that measures to teach responsible drinking, such as education programs on safe alcohol consumption, are adopted along with these adjustments in taxes.  With any luck, other states will begin to follow California’s lead and reconsider their tax policies for liquor in the near future.

To read more on the studies mentioned above, see Paying the Tab:  The Costs and Benefits of Alcohol Control, by Philip J. Cook—a very interesting read.


Effects of Stricter Regulations in British Pubs

Thursday, June 12th, 2008

The London subways were a nasty sight on the morning of June 1st due to the impromptu party the previous night, when British teens and young adults celebrated the last hurrah for drinking on public transportation.  The Economist discussed this party and drinking, in general, in a recent article, and noted the changes in drinking patterns of Britain’s youth.  While more teens now report never trying alcohol, those who have tried it are drinking larger quantities, and this is especially true for those 11-13 years old.  Demographic changes have not been drastic enough to explain this shift in drinking behavior, and it is believed that more hostile regulations on drinking in pubs and bars have encouraged teens to move their drinking elsewhere, such as the trains, parks, or street corners.  In pubs, people must behave properly in order to prevent being thrown out, and social pressures and norms tend to keep people in line and behaving according to the status quo.  Supervision and social restraint disappear when teens drink in private and are more free to do whatever they want, get as drunk as they want, etc.  Along with increases in quantity of alcohol consumed, spirits are now more common than ever before.  They also tend to be consumed when teens drink on their own, and not in pubs which often offer more beer and wine. 

We believe that these points echo our own ideas about the drinking age in the U.S. since, just as British young adults want to avoid the strict bars and drink on their own, Americans who cannot enter bars and legally drink also turn to drinking on their own.  Dangerous binge drinking often results, which can get out of control due to a lack of monitoring and supervision at private parties.  Lowering the drinking age could help prevent binge drinking by allowing young adults an opportunity to drink in public settings (bars, restaurants) where they might feel it is more inappropriate to binge drink and get ragingly drunk.  Their behavior could also be better monitored and supervised by others; a bartender is more likely than a drunk friend to cut someone off.

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“Should the Drinking Age be Lowered?” Our response

Friday, June 6th, 2008

We are pleased by the coverage the drinking age received in this week’s issue of Time (“Should the Drinking Age be Lowered?,” June 16, 2008), but feel that there is more to be said about the several points John Cloud makes to defend his conclusion that challenging the 21 year-old drinking age is a misguided endeavor

• “First of all, while binge drinking is a serious problem, the data do not show that it has gotten worse since states raised their drinking ages” Well, frankly, that depends on where you’re looking. According to the CDC, 18-20 year-olds experienced the steepest increase in binge drinking rates—56%–between 1993 and 2001. Amongst the entire population of underage drinkers (12-20 year-olds, as according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health), overall rates of binge drinking increased from 15.2% to 18.9% between 1991 and 2003. During the same time period, there was a steady decline in the prevalence of alcohol consumption among 12-20 year-olds. While fewer young people are drinking, those who choose to drink are drinking more, and drinking more recklessly. Neither by these indications, nor those Mr. Cloud presents in his essay has the 21 year-old drinking age and the current approach to educating young people about responsible alcohol use had the intended effect of reducing both the use and misuse of alcohol among adolescents and young adults.
• “No researchers have documented an increase in the percentage of alcohol-poisoning deaths among college students, although the raw number has probably increased with the growing college population.” In fact, several well-regarded, widely cited studies have looked at the rate of non-traffic, alcohol related injury deaths among young adults. Their findings? Between 1998 and 2001, these deaths increased from 991 to 1151—a rise of 16%, with the indication of a continued upward trend at a rate outpacing the size of the population. An increasing number of lives are being lost to alcohol off the highways, and surely these lives deserve as much consideration in this argument as those lost on the highways.
• “Choose Responsibility supporters have also claimed that other countries that haven’t raised their drinking ages — including Canada and the United Kingdom — saw their drunk-driving fatalities drop even faster than in the U.S. But that’s simply not true.” Canada, which is for many reasons the most comparable nation to the United States in terms of driving habits and cultural tendencies, experienced a 28% decline in alcohol related traffic fatalities between 1982 and 1992. In this same time period, which represents the most substantive decline in traffic fatalities since data was first gathered, the United States experienced a 26% decline. Though it varies by province, the drinking age across Canada is either 18 or 19 and remained as such throughout the time period in question. Furthermore, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has noted that where youth drinking and driving is concerned, Canadian reductions followed a virtually identical pattern to the United States. Their conclusion? “This means that the changes [in youth drinking and driving rates in the US and Canada] must have resulted from some combination of the difficult-to-assess educational and motivational programs and from other factors outside of traffic safety. This conclusion suggests that a substantial portion of the reduction in the United States also resulted from these same causes”

To clarify in a more general sense, Choose Responsibility believes foremost that the 21 year-old drinking age is a policy whose intended and unintended consequences must be considered side by side, and that cause and effect relationships drawn between it and measurements of a its success—namely the decline in alcohol related traffic fatalities seen throughout the 1980s and early 1990s—must be extended to the many other areas of our society that this law has affected. To ignore the reality that excessive, reckless alcohol use among young people has either remained impervious to change or increased in the past decade is to minimize the very real threat that such behaviors pose to all Americans, regardless of their age.

We do not believe, as Mr. Cloud suggests, that lowering the drinking age would immediately address the pervasive binge drinking culture endemic to young people in America. We do believe that alcohol education is sorely lacking in its ability to prepare young people for the realities they will face in adult life, which for all will involve decisions about the role of alcohol. We do believe that there are better ways to ensure young people have the ability to make responsible decisions about alcohol use than our current prohibitionist tack. Given this, we ultimately believe that the time has come for new voices and fresh ideas in the debate over the legal drinking age—that much, Mr. Cloud has correct.

“In the Mix:” PBS Alcohol Special

Wednesday, June 4th, 2008

The PBS show “In the Mix,” produced by teens, for teens, will be airing “Alcohol: What You Don’t Know” during the week of June 7-14, 2008. The show will present the facts behind alcohol use and abuse and explore the effects of alcohol through interviews with victims of drunk driving accidents and alcoholics. A sample high school program in which upperclassmen teach responsible drinking workshops for younger students will also be presented. We encourage you to tune in to see what these young people have to say, and welcome your feedback and comments.  Check your local listings for more information on “In the Mix” and to see when it will be broadcast in your area.

62 High Schoolers arrested at post-prom bash

Monday, June 2nd, 2008

Over 100 high-school students from New Jersey were caught and breathalyzed this past Friday night when police broke up a party in West Dover, VT, the Rutland Herald reported on Sunday. The police ended what was supposed to be a three-day after-prom party, taking place at three houses that the teens had rented, and 62 students received citations for being in possession of a malt beverage. Such a large scale party once again brings to light the issues of underage drinking and binge drinking, and the party’s isolated location in Southern Vermont highlights the problem of the secretiveness, stealth, and complex planning that often accompanies underage drinking—something that can increase its dangerousness.

The New Jersey teens are most likely juniors and seniors in high school and, therefore, would still be unable to drink even if the drinking age was 18. However, the furtive nature of their party and the huge quantity of alcohol present (police found 18 kegs of beer, 8 bottles of vodka, and 5 cases of beer) demonstrates a culture of secret binge drinking characterized by strategic planning, execution, and excessiveness that transcends the high-school/college boundary and is present amongst high school and college students, alike. Not being allowed to drink in public, such as at bars and restaurants, fuels this binge drinking culture, as young adults are driven to drink heavily in short amounts of time, in an attempt to “pre-game” parties and events.

The recent Vermont party also raises the issue of parental enabling of underage drinking, since the fact that the teens had three rented houses and such a large amount of alcohol suggests that parents may have been involved in planning the party. Recently, social host laws have been enacted in some communities to try and inhibit this parental involvement by claiming that parents will be held responsible and steeply fined for underage drinking in their homes. As the details of the Vermont party are investigated further, more information as to the involvement of parents will hopefully become available.