By L.A. Williams, Correspondent
Christian Action League
Experts in public health on the national level are confirming what the Christian Action League has been saying for years — states should not further privatize retail alcohol sales because such a move would increase excessive alcohol consumption and worsen related health and social problems.
The Task Force on Community Preventive Services, formed in 1996 by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, released a statement in April citing “strong evidence that privatization results in increased per capita alcohol consumption, a well-established proxy for excessive consumption.”
“This latest recommendation doesn’t surprise us at all,” said the Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League. “These studies bear out a logical progression: privatization leads to more alcohol outlets which generate more sales which result in higher rates of consumption.”
Stephen Herzenberg, PhD and economist who heads the Pennsylvania-based Keystone Research Center, called the Task Force report “the most definitive statement on retail alcohol privatization issued to date by U.S. public health researchers” and said its evidence was the best available because it was acquired from “natural experiments” with actual privatizations.
An independent, volunteer body of experts appointed by the director of the Centers of Disease Control (CDC), the Task Force based its study on 12 research papers that analyzed 21 privatization situations including transitions to privatized alcohol sales in seven U.S. states, two Canadian provinces and two European countries. More than 75 percent of the individual studies involved comparisons of changes in the consumption rates of a privatized beverage with concurrent changes in consumption of other drinks not privatized, which served as a control group. The overall study showed that after privatization, consumption of privatized beverages increased an average of 48.2 percent.
“The report called this increase ‘substantial,’ which we consider an understatement,” said the Rev. Creech.
As to how privatization leads to such increases, the study report cited increased numbers of off-premise outlets as well as increased days and hours of sale. It said privatization may also be associated with increased alcohol advertising, increases in the number of brands sold, and more lax enforcement of sales regulations, including the minimum legal drinking age.
“To even imagine that such increases could occur without tremendous negative health and societal impacts on communities would be ridiculous,” the Rev. Creech added.
Although the Task Force report admitted that only a handful of the studies it examined focused much on alcohol-related harms, it also listed as “secondary evidence” some 16 other studies that reveal the relationship between privatized retail alcohol distribution and binge drinking, DUI citations, traffic fatalities and other public health issues.
The 12-member Task Force concluded: “The maintenance of government control of off-premise sale of alcoholic beverages is one of many effective strategies to prevent or reduce excessive consumption which is one of the leading causes of preventable death and disability.”
The Rev. Creech said the findings from the Task Force should serve as encouragement to Tar Heel lawmakers and Gov. Bev Perdue, who chose to keep the state’s Alcohol Beverage Control system in place after much consideration last year.
“We know alcohol vendors will continue to promote the idea of privatization, but it’s good to see continued scrutiny of the issue from public health experts that reveal the true effects of such a move,” he added. The Task Force recommendation, finalized in February but not released until April, marked a change in course from the group’s last look at the issue. In 2006-07, it found insufficient evidence of a link between privatization and increased drinking.
For more on the Task Force findings, go to http://www.thecommunityguide.org/alcohol/RRprivatization.html