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Panel Urges National Strategy to Fight Underage Drinking

The National Academy of Sciences issued a report Sept. 9 calling for a comprehensive national plan to combat underage drinking.

The panel urged alcohol manufacturers, businesses, the entertainment industry, parents and other adults to develop “a deep, shared commitment” to working together to curb drinking by minors.<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office” />
 
“All segments of <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags” />U.S. society should address underage drinking in a serious, coordinated and sustained manner,” said Richard J. Bonnie, a professor at the University of Virginia and chairman of the committee that wrote the report. “We have to find effective ways to protect our nation’s youth, while we respect the interests of responsible adult consumers of alcohol.”
 
Recommendations called for heightened adult supervision of children’s behavior and for the alcohol and entertainment industries to take stronger steps to shield young people from unsuitable messages about alcohol consumption.
 
The report’s most controversial recommendation called for raising excise taxes on beer, the alcoholic beverage that youth most prefer. The report said that when adjusted for inflation, alcohol is cheaper than it was 30 to 40 years ago and cited studies showing that even small changes in tax rates discourage youths with a limited discretionary income from drinking.
 
A spokesman for the alcohol industry, however, said the NAS panel relied on erroneous information and called the recommendation for raising excise taxes on beer “misguided.”
 
“Experience has shown that the only clear results from increasing beer excise taxes are higher unemployment and higher prices for responsible adults—such measures do nothing to lower teen drinking,” Jeff Becker, president of the Beer Institute, said in a statement.
 
The NAS study said that more young people drink alcohol than use other drugs or smoke tobacco. Underage drinking costs the nation an estimated $53 billion a year in losses stemming from traffic fatalities, violent crime and other risky behaviors, the study said.
 
Mothers Against Drunk Driving hailed the NAS report.
 
“Underage drinking is our nation’s No. 1 youth drug problem, killing 6.5 times more youth than all illicit drugs combined, yet the issue has been virtually absent from the federal agenda,” Wendy J. Hamilton, MADD national president, said in a statement.
 
Kathryn Swanson, chairwoman of the Governors Highway Safety Association, said her group is “very encouraged” by the NAS report and recommendations. “Although the problem is less severe than it was a decade ago, underage drinking and driving remains one of the top challenges faced by state highway safety offices,” Swanson said in a statement.
 
Join Together, a project against substance abuse and gun violence sponsored by the Boston University School of Public Health, also welcomed the NAS recommendations.
 
“The NAS recommendations should be adopted because there is strong research evidence to show that they will save lives,” said David Rosenbloom, director of Join Together. “The only opposition will come from the beer manufacturers and dealers, because they also know that the proposals will reduce the underage drinking that bloats their profits.”
 
Alcohol manufacturers, however, denied that they market their products to young people.
 
The American Beverage Institute said the panel was “stacked with neo-Prohibitionists,” alleging that nine of the 12 panelists are associated with anti-alcohol causes.
 
“A panel so heavily stacked with individuals bearing an anti-alcohol agenda cannot be expected to report objectively,” the group said in a news release.
 
A report issued the same day by the Federal Trade Commission concluded the alcohol industry does not intentionally market its product to young people. Critics said the FTC report relied too heavily on information provided by the alcohol industry.
 
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.