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Alcohol Issues Insights

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
The (mostly) industry-funded study of moderate drinking continues to attract attention and criticism. AB’s hometown paper, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, editorialized on Apr 7: “Shame on NIH: government researchers took beverage industry money for alcohol study.” Like the NY Times, and others, the Post-Dispatch focused on damage done to NIH’s “credibility.” But that’s only because it assumes the industry has none. Indeed, the paper finds it “alarming” that NIH would “collude with donors who clearly want to see an outcome favorable to their future sales.” Even if findings prove to be clear of industry influence, “from a public perspective, the funding source destroys any semblance of objectivity.” What’s more, “the alcohol industry has no stake in safeguarding the public health,” Post-Dispatch pronounces. Meanwhile Westley Clark, a public health professor at Santa Clara University, offered a different take, implicitly defending the industry’s funding of the study in Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Weekly. Alcohol-related problems “exceed those of opioid-related problems” in the US, Clark noted, “yet public funds cannot be found to launch true population-level alcohol research in order to address key questions associated with alcohol use.” NIAAA is underfunded and faces a cut in the next budget, Clark added. Without resources,…

Publishing Info

  • Year 2018
  • Volume 35
  • Issue # 13
A first-ever study that considered deaths in the US from alcohol and drug use disorders separately from unintentional poisonings, intentional overdoses (self-harm, or suicide) found significantly different trends in these mortality rates, as well as wide variations county by county. Analyzing nearly 3 million deaths from 1980 to 2014 due to substance use and intentional injury, the authors found that the mortality rate for alcohol use disorders fell 8.1%, from 3.1 per 100,000 population to 2.8. (The rate declined by 11% between 1980 and 2000 and rose 3.2% from 2000 to 2014.) At the same time, more counties experienced increases than decreases. The counties that experienced above- average increases tended to be in northern and western regions while “counties with particularly large decreases were found in South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, Georgia, Florida and Alaska.” The mortality rate from alcohol use disorders, at 2.8 per 100,000 in 2014, compared to 10.4 for drug use disorders, 13.9 for self-harm and 5.7 from interpersonal violence. Look at the difference in trends. While the mortality rate for alcohol use disorders fell by 8.1%, it skyrocketed by over 7-fold for drug use disorders (in part due to the opioid epidemic, the authors suggest), declined…

Publishing Info

  • Year 2018
  • Volume 35
  • Issue # 3
Numerous studies link moderate alcohol consumption to lower mortality risk. The latest comes from the 90+ Study of 1700 Californians living in an Orange County retirement community begun in 2003. Researchers sought information about what lifestyle factors are associated with longevity, dementia rates, cognitive and functional decline among this population. One key finding, according to a recent report by the lead author: “Those who had around 2 glasses of beer or wine every day had an 18% reduced risk of premature death compared to those who were teetotal,” as The Daily Mail in Britain reported. (These levels exceed current British Drinking Guidelines for both men and women and US Guidelines for women.) Interestingly too, being slightly overweight, coffee consumption, having a hobby and daily exercise were also associated with longevity. “I have no explanation for it,” lead author Professor Claudia Kawas told a meeting in Austin, “but I do firmly believe that modest drinking improves longevity.” Another comment from her about the surviving 90+ population: “These people are inspiring – they drink wine, drink coffee, gain weight, but they exercised and use their brains. Maybe that can tell us something.” Maybe. Maybe not. While these 90+ study results got plenty…

Publishing Info

  • Year 2018
  • Volume 35
  • Issue # 2
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