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Alcohol Issues Insights

It’s not just scientific journals like The Lancet or the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs that are venturing into alcohol policy these days. An opinion writer for business-focused publisher Bloomberg reviewed the recent WHO report on alcohol consumption in Europe, questioned some of its “best buys” in policy and took a strong anti-equivalence stance. Columnist Leonid Bershidsky noted that average alcohol consumption across Europe didn’t change much from 2010 to 2016 (just as in the US), remaining steady at 11.3 liters per capita, about 15% higher than in the US. At the same time, rates of “heavy episodic consumption” actually declined in Europe during the same period, from 34% of adults to 30% of adults. Yet alcohol is still linked to a significant number of deaths and WHO continues to advance its “best buys” in policy, as we noted in the last AII Update: higher taxes and more restrictions on availability and marketing. But “high alcohol taxes are an especially blunt instrument,” Bershidsky argues, pointing out (as many others have) that they’re regressive and drive poorer drinkers “to more harmful homebrews.” That occurred in Greece, he notes, the only European country where alcohol mortality increased during that period.…

Publishing Info

  • Year 2019
  • Volume 36
  • Issue # 29
More data from this year’s Gallup Poll of Americans’ drinking habits provides insight into Americans who “have occasion to drink” and those who say they abstain. Not much difference between men and women these days, as we noted last week, with 68% of men drinking, 63% of women. Then too, despite increased chatter about millennials being increasingly “sober curious,” 67% of 18-34 year-olds are drinkers, only 2 points below the 69% of 35-44 year-olds who drink and ahead of the 62% of those age 55+ in the drinker column. There’s almost no difference between Democrats, Republicans and Independents when it comes to drinking. Only 1 point separates them. But self-described Liberals (71%) are more likely to drink than Moderates (66%) and Conservatives (63%). And white Americans (69%) are noticeably more likely than non-whites (57%) to drink. Education is an even sharper distinction between drinkers and abstainers. Fully 3/4 of college graduates drink alcohol compared to just 54% among those with a high school degree or less. “But one of the most significant predictors of drinking alcohol,” Gallup analyst Frank Newport points out in a follow-up article: religion. Putting together the last 6 years of poll results, Newport found “an inverse…

Publishing Info

  • Year 2019
  • Volume 36
  • Issue # 26
While consumers (mostly) flock to low-ABV seltzers, public health advocates/researchers continue to focus on the high-ABV FMBs, specifically “supersized alcopops,” high ABV malt beverage products sold in large cans. The latest study, published in Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, takes aim at Four Loko brands, and specifically at what the authors deem to be especially low prices per serving. Sampling data from Four Loko’s own website on where the brands can be found in the largest city in every state, plus DC, the authors followed up with retailers to obtain information on pricing and discounts. Data based on 344 retail locations showed that the “average price per standard drink,” 14 grams of absolute alcohol, “was $0.54 for Four Loko products.” The authors then do the math to determine that “taking into account volume, price and discounts, an average of 17 standard alcohol drinks could be purchased via Four Loko with $10.” Thinking about this further, they conclude that the study “verifies that Four Loko is among the least expensive ready-to-drink alcohol available in the United States.” What’s more, since a single can “constitutes binge drinking and is therefore unsafe, regulatory agencies should consider a variety of steps to reduce the…

Publishing Info

  • Year 2019
  • Volume 36
  • Issue # 23
Did someone say Americans are re-thinking temperance and re-visiting drinking guidelines? “It’s time to reconsider whether America’s ‘noble experiment’ was really such a failure after all.” So insisted Vox’s German Lopez in a mid-June article that concludes, as our headline notes, that “Prohibition worked better than you think.” The article received some buzz at the recent meeting of the National Conference of State Liquor Administrators (NCSLA), but not a lot of attention otherwise. In any case, Lopez makes the case by setting up a classic straw man, claiming that extremists like Carrie Nation actually “were driven by real problems caused by excessive drinking,” as if anyone had ever argued the contrary. In substance, Lopez attacks two key arguments that Prohibition failed. First, “contrary to conventional wisdom, the evidence also suggests that Prohibition really did reduce drinking.” Second, “newer research even indicates banning the sale of alcohol may not have, on balance, led to an increase in violence and crime.” Closer, subsequent review of different data sources, Lopez reports, suggests: “A 30% reduction at a minimum in consumption, although that was less than the initial effect, as people figured ways around the law.” Reducing availability and raising price, goes this argument,…

Publishing Info

  • Year 2019
  • Volume 36
  • Issue # 21
Sorta-sober is kinda cool now, didn’t’cha know? That storyline picked up steam this Spring, following the slew of stories we featured in our April issue, which recall also questioned the statistical significance of this “new sobriety” trend. Yet that was the title of an extensive piece published by The New York Times in mid-June, reviewing the growing resources available to folks cutting back or eliminating alcohol entirely. Plenty more glowing coverage appeared this month, admiring both health-and-wellness adjacent alcohol beverage products and growing non-alc options. But more often this month, writers threw cold water on the trend. “Alcohol brands have set their blurry sights on the slippery concept of wellness,” Eater headlined, followed less than a week later by the NY Post’s blunt take: “Don’t believe the hype - experts say wellness beers, wine are BS.” Whatever producers add to these concoctions, it’s still alcohol, dietitians and medical professionals repeated to the papers covering these topics. With examples of wellness-aligned ingredient additions across expensive new beer, wine and spirits brands, a similar but separate Post piece points out that TTB bars marketers from making health claims. But “that doesn’t stop other brands from using potentially flimsy nutritional science to market…

Publishing Info

  • Year 2019
  • Volume 36
  • Issue # 6
At Beer Institute’s annual meeting earlier this week, president Jim McGreevy included alcohol policy among the issues the association is currently confronting. Two key themes, both linked to the 2020 revision of US Dietary Guidelines: 1) differentiating beer from liquor and wine; 2) pushing back on the increasingly prevalent messaging from public health that there is “no safe level” of alcohol consumption. There’s “no science” behind this notion, Jim asserted, and “we will deal with it,” he assured. Recall, one of the Dietary Guideline committee members, and the only one with a background in alcohol research, is Dr. Timothy Naimi, who is closely associated with the “group of activists” advancing the “no safe level” message. Specifically, Beer Institute aims to preserve the change in language achieved in the last round of Dietary Guideline revisions away from “standard drink,” and continue to differentiate beer from other alcohol beverages. Pint glasses at the meeting had engraved cut offs for 12 oz of beer at 5% ABV, 5 oz of wine at 12% ABV and 1.5 oz of spirits at 40% ABV. Another goal: preserve the specific guideline of 1 drink/day for women, 2/day for men, as opposed to any potential efforts to…

Publishing Info

  • Year 2019
  • Volume 36
  • Issue # 19
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