A new study finds that policymakers are significantly more likely to adopt ineffective alcohol policies than they are to adopt ones proven to work. Researchers at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health and Boston University tracked 29 different state alcohol control policies from 1999 through 2011 and found that that none of the policies rated to be the most effective for reducing excessive drinking were either adopted or strengthened during the study period.
[Photo: Dr. Toben Nelson]
During that same period they also noted an increase in the overall number of policies being adopted that were comparatively less effective, or that targeted only youth drinking or impaired driving.
Study findings were recently published online in the journal Addiction.
“Policy makers have a range of options available to them to address excessive alcohol use and the public health problems that result,” said Dr. Toben Nelson, lead author of the study and associate professor in the School of Public Health. “Unfortunately, the policies most often implemented tend to be the weakest.”
The study is the first to empirically demonstrate with real-world data what alcohol policy researchers have long suspected: that effective policies for reducing problems associated with excessive drinking are unpopular, while popular policies are less effective.
According to Dr. Nelson, effective policy strategies are widely studied and have strong evidence supporting their success. They include alcohol taxes, price restrictions at the retail and wholesale level, restrictions on the density of alcohol outlets in a particular geographic area, and restrictions on the days and hours of sale. These policies work by limiting the availability of alcohol throughout the population rather than through targeting a smaller segment of the population.
Problems associated with excessive alcohol consumption are among the leading causes of death in the United States, and generate an estimated $220 billion in economic costs annually, including in the health care and criminal justice systems and through lost productivity. Most of those costs are borne by government and industry.