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Alcohol Issues Insights

Well-known alcohol researcher William Kerr and some colleagues from the Alcohol Research Group compared two sets of surveys to determine if and how much cannabis use changed in Washington after legalization of recreational use. A set of surveys performed in 2014 and 2015 − after the state legalized recreational use – found the “prevalence of use [among those age 18+] was found to have increased by 1.2 percentage points (from 24.3% to 25.6%.)” What’s more “none of the pre-post legalization differences were found to be statistically significant.” There were no significant changes in use in the past-year, weekly or more, less than weekly or use with or without alcohol. Kerr and colleagues compared this finding of an insignificant increase in cannabis use before and after legalization with reports by Washington residents of use in federal government surveys (in the National Survey on Drug Use and Health) over the same pre- and post-legalization period. In the government surveys, use would have been illegal in the early years. The NSDUH surveys suggest “an increase of about 20% in the prevalence of past-year marijuana use across legalization. Estimates of past-month use for the same period show a similar pattern of change.” Another much…

Publishing Info

  • Year 2018
  • Volume 35
  • Issue # 7
While public health advocates argue that higher average consumption rates lead to more alcohol-related problems, impaired driving fatalities have never been strongly linked to absolute alcohol consumption rates, at least not on a state-by-state basis. Safewise analyzed 2016 impaired driving fatalities per 100,000 population in each state from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Ranking the states from highest to lowest, NHTSA data shows a remarkable range in the rate per 100,000 population. Indeed, Montana’s 9.15 per 100,000 is 5.5X higher than New York’s 1.65. Interestingly, Utah has the 2d-lowest rate at 1.94, 17.5% higher than New York, where alcohol is significantly easier to access and taxed at a much lower rate. There are many other cultural, geographic and other differences between New York and Utah as well, yet they are 2 of only 3 states where the impaired fatality rate is less than 2 per 100,000. New Jersey is the 3d. If average alcohol consumption were specifically related to impaired fatality rates, you’d expect states with the lowest impaired fatality rates to also be among those with the lowest per capita consumption of absolute alcohol and vice versa, with the heaviest drinking states being among those with the highest…

Publishing Info

  • Year 2018
  • Volume 35
  • Issue # 8
“Alcohol’s health benefits hard to prove, but harms are easy to document,” proclaims an article that first appeared on the website The Conversation (“Academic rigor, journalistic flair”). The Associated Press picked it up and gave it much broader reach. Author Christina Mair from the University of Pittsburgh asked whether Americans’ “comfort with and acceptance of alcohol” should be as high as it is. Mair never directly answers the question, but implicitly she suggests: probably not. Why not? Two principal reasons. First, the purported health benefits of moderate drinking, including lower risk of cardiovascular disease, remain an “open question,” in her analysis. More importantly, “there are more alcohol-attributable deaths and a myriad of physical and social problems related to drinking, even at low levels, than any other substance.” A third theme: “Backed by a strong industry, alcohol’s dangers may be underplayed and its benefits exaggerated.” Mair’s article details those dangers and problems. Among them: Alcohol is involved with more deaths and problems than the much-discussed opioid epidemic. “Alcohol is the third leading cause of premature mortality in the US.” Drinking, “even at low levels,” is associated with “a number of cancers.” Alcohol “causes” many violence-related harms: child maltreatment, intimate partner violence,…

Publishing Info

  • Year 2018
  • Volume 35
  • Issue # 22
That question popped twice on the media radar in the last week. On May 30, an op-ed appeared in the Wall Street Journal titled “Dry the Friendly Skies.” A transportation consultant and frequent flier who “often” witnesses “disruption caused by excessive drinking,” called on the airlines to enact a ban “in the interest of themselves and their passengers.” If not, “Congress and the Federal Aviation Administration should do so – as they did with smoking.” Today, lifestyle site cheatsheet.com ran an article titled “Airplane Horror Stories Reveal Why Alcohol Shouldn’t Be Served on Airline Flights.” In addition to a number of gory, detailed stories, the author claimed that reports of intoxicated passengers to the International Air Transport Association rose sharply over the last decade, from 500 in 2007 to 6,000 in 2016, 8,000 in 2017. While airlines “haven’t done much to make a change,” the British government is considering fines on intoxicated fliers and packaging requirements to stop fliers from opening duty-free alcohol on planes.

Publishing Info

  • Year 2018
  • Volume 35
  • Issue # 17
Inevitably perhaps, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) halted the industry-funded, global research project to determine whether moderate drinking has cardiovascular benefits. That’s in the wake of revelations in the NY Times back in mid-March that NIAAA officials met with industry members in 2013 and 2014 to discuss funding. Recall, a group of large producers agreed to fund 2/3 of the approximately $100 million cost of the 8-year study. They had no input into the design, methods or findings, but “critics said the presentations [at those meetings] compromised the objectivity of the trial and may have violated federal funding rules,” The NY Times reminded last week. (A slightly different version of this article appeared in our INSIGHTS Express publication on May 18.) NIAAA and/or a couple of researchers allegedly suggested the results could be positive for moderate drinking and thus the industry. Government officials, medical institutions and researchers involved have all defended the study’s objectivity. But NIH told the lead grantee Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center to “pause all study activities,” the Washington Post reported. NIH has 2 separate investigations underway to review the funding process and the study’s objectivity. NIH Director Frances Collins told a Senate subcommittee last week…

Publishing Info

  • Year 2018
  • Volume 35
  • Issue # 16
Scotland’s minimum price for alcohol just took effect (May 1), but it immediately prompted calls not only for its expansion throughout the UK, but also advocacy for next steps. Indeed, UK cancer expert Prof Linda Bauld pointed out: “A minimum unit price for alcohol is one action among many that will help reduce how much alcohol is consumed in Scotland.” The publicly stated reason for adopting minimum price is to reduce harms associated with over-drinking: alcohol-related deaths, emergency room visits, violence, etc. But public health experts often acknowledge, explicitly or implicitly, that reducing consumption is the ultimate goal. Some highlights from the (very) heavy coverage in the UK press this week (sources listed below). Scotland as Tip of the UK Spear Minimum price legislation “is to come into focus next year in Wales. A bill is working its way through the Welsh assembly and will get royal assent this summer.” Wales may set a 20% higher minimum. Scottish health experts lobbied for 70p per unit, 40% higher than what the government levied. Government officials in Ireland and Northern Ireland support the policy. And public health experts are publicly pushing England to follow: “Cheap alcohol is wrecking lives and livelihoods in…

Publishing Info

  • Year 2018
  • Volume 35
  • Issue # 14
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