Alcohol Policies Really Matter

Timely commentary on alcohol policy from Join Together. It’s concise, so I’m posting the whole thing.

Alcohol Policies Really Matter
December 15, 2006

By David Rosenbloom

Today we report on the deadly results of Finland’s decision to slash alcohol taxes: after two years, alcohol related illness and accidents have replaced heart disease as the leading cause of death among men aged 18 to 65.

There are other national social experiments that are getting similarly bad results. Pubs and bars in England can now stay open almost around the clock. The resulting violence in many town centers, as drunk young men and women spill into the streets, has become a national scandal.

New Zealand lowered its legal drinking age to 18 a few years ago and watched alcohol-related car crashes and deaths among teenagers increase sharply, reversing years of steady decline.

These are sobering reminders that policies about price and availability of alcohol really matter. When the United States raised the minimum drinking age to 21 between 1981 and 1984, there was an immediate drop in deaths from alcohol related accidents in young people; it has stayed near this lower level for 20 years, saving about 1,000 lives a year. The states with the highest beer taxes have significantly lower rates of teenage binge drinking and associated harms than the states with the lowest beer taxes.

Reasonable laws, effectively enforced, save lives. Poor laws — such as the ridiculously low alcohol taxes in most U.S. states — cost lives.

I urge all our readers to send Join Together reports about the mistakes in Finland, England and New Zealand to their state and local leaders, reminding them that they have the power to kill or save young people when they adopt new alcohol policies.

David Rosenbloom is the Director of Join Together.