Going for STOP: Congress Passes First Major Underage-Drinking Law

The Sober Truth on Preventing (STOP) Underage Drinking Act made it out of conference and has been passed by the House and Senate.

“Passage of the STOP Act represents a long-overdue acknowledgment of the need to do more as a nation to address the harm caused by underage drinking,” said George Hacker, director of the alcohol policies project at the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), a strong supporter of the bill. “Unlike illicit drugs, there has been no credible national plan to combat alcohol problems, by far the greater health and safety drag on our nation. That is a huge gap that must be filled, and the STOP Act is a step in the right direction.”

Major provisions of the STOP Act include a $1-million annual national media campaign on underage drinking; $5 million in grants to help community coalitions address underage drinking; $5 million in grant funding to prevent alcohol abuse at institutions of higher education; requiring the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to produce an annual report on state underage-drinking prevention and enforcement activities; establishing a federal interagency coordinating committee on underage drinking; and authorizing $6 million for research on underage drinking.

“Congress has never passed a bill on underage-drinking before,” David Jernigan, executive director of the Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth (CAMY) at Georgetown University, told Join Together. “HHS has never been required to keep an eye on the issue to this extent. The annual report will be a great tool and will keep [underage drinking] from falling off the agenda.”

Many facets of the bill were based on the recommendations found in the “Reducing Underage Drinking: A Collective Responsibility” report, released in 2003 by the Institute of Medicine and the National Academy of Sciences.

“Through the hard-hitting public-service ads funded under the measure, parents will get a strong message about the dangers of underage drinking,” said Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-Calif.), the lead sponsor of the measure along with Rep. Tom Osborne (R-Neb.).

Hopefully this will have at least some of the intended effects, however that last paragraph about hard-hitting ads makes me cringe. The feds have a well established pattern of investing heavily in ad campaigns that are ineffective and sometimes associated with increased use. We still know little about how to prevent drug and alcohol problems, so I’d expect mistakes. The problem is that they hide these problems and deny they exist. I’d have no problem with ads if they measure their impact, change as needed and learn from their mistakes. Maybe this campaign will be better because it’s not being managed by the ONDCP. We can hope.

Treatment and prevention critic/gadfly Stanton Peele offers his view on the new act.