Monday, November 26, 2012

The role of public policy in preventing underage substance use

Community coalitions like Prevention WINS advocate for policies that are proven to prevent underage drinking and substance abuse.  Below are a few examples.

While consumers may complain about the cost of alcohol since the approval of Initiative 1183 last year, high prices are actually good when it comes to preventing underage drinking.

Raising alcohol excise taxes can help deter young people from drinking, according to a leading expert on preventing drinking in youth.

“These taxes prevent and reduce drinking and death among young people, as well as among heavy drinkers,” says David H. Jernigan, PhD, Associate Professor and Director, Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth (CAMY), Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, who has conducted research on the effect of the taxes.

“When alcohol is cheaper at the corner store than milk, orange juice or sometimes even water, it sends young people the wrong message,” Jernigan says. “It makes alcohol look like an ordinary commodity when it is not.” He notes that prices on alcohol used to be much higher than those on other beverages. The most important factor in the price drop has been the inability of alcohol taxes to keep up with inflation.

State Alcohol Policy Changes

The Alcohol Policy Information System (APIS) has updated its list of state alcohol policies to reflect substantive changes that occurred last year. The list is available online.

Many of the state policy changes are consistent with the goal of reducing underage drinking and its consequences, as well as the goal of reducing alcohol-related death and injury in the general population, according to APIS.

Changes to state alcohol policies include an increase in Connecticut’s excise taxes for beer, wine and distilled spirits and Mississippi’s prohibition against hosting underage drinking parties.

Law Enforcement
Policies are only effective if they are enforced.  This story, Laws to Crack Down on Serving Intoxicated People in Bars Largely Ignored, provides a good example.

A recent study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health supports previous studies that show that, when enforced, laws meant to prevent and reduce underage drinking can be effective.  

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