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APHA denounces widespread loosening of alcohol regulations, calls for policy changes

Date: Oct 19 2020

Contact: APHA Media Relations

Cocktails-to-go, alcohol home delivery and other expansions of alcohol access have been touted as good for businesses struggling to stay open during the COVID-19 pandemic. But such changes to state and community alcohol regulations have opened the door for additional alcohol-related problems, says the American Public Health Association.

“We need to strengthen science-based policies to prevent alcohol-related deaths and community harms,” said APHA President Lisa Carlson, MPH, MCHES. “Public health should be squarely at the table in policy discussions around alcohol regulations in general, and certainly during the pandemic.”

Recent research suggests the move toward expanded alcohol access has serious short- and long- term public health and safety consequences for communities already disproportionately burdened by the pandemic.

“One by one, vested interests have been chiseling away at proven policies that reduce alcohol-related harms, effectively eroding the safeguards designed to protect communities,” said Sean J. Haley, PhD, MPH, chair of APHA’s Alcohol, Tobacco and Other Drugs Section. “Remove even one safeguard, and the entire infrastructure may begin to crumble.”

Up to 95,000 people die from alcohol-related causes each year in the United States. About 26% of people ages 18 or older reported engaging in binge drinking over the past month, and more than 6% said they used alcohol heavily during that time. Alcohol-related emergency department admissions increased more than 60% between 2006 and 2014.

Greater alcohol availability is linked to higher rates of alcohol-related motor vehicle crashes and hospital use. Both result in considerable private and public costs.

Haley is the lead author of a November 2020 editorial on public health’s role to reduce alcohol-related harms published in the American Journal of Public Health. The editorial notes that the U.S. needs to enact policy and legislative changes that protect public health and safety, such as:

  • maintaining limits on hours and days of alcohol sales; 
  • restricting the number of locations selling alcohol, including home delivery; and
  • increasing the historically low tax rates on alcohol.

“Policymakers need to know that there are better ways to balance public health and commercial interests,” Haley said. “It’s time for public health experts to join these conversations.”



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