Magazine article Insight on the News

Q: Are New Congressional Efforts to Curb Underage Drinking on the Right Track? NO: Let's Focus on Real Solutions to Fight Underage Drinking

Magazine article Insight on the News

Q: Are New Congressional Efforts to Curb Underage Drinking on the Right Track? NO: Let's Focus on Real Solutions to Fight Underage Drinking

Article excerpt

Byline: David K. Rehr, SPECIAL TO INSIGHT

We all suffer when junk science falls into the hands of the few antialcohol activists in Congress and government bureaucrats who utilize unreliable data to drive their personal agendas. This unfortunately is the case with the recent National Academy of Sciences' (NAS) Institute of Medicine study on underage drinking.

Thankfully in this case those bureaucrats are in the minority and the overwhelming majority of Congress is committed to focusing on real solutions, not scare tactics, to fight the serious issue of illegal drinking among our nation's youth.

There is no question that until everyone under the age of 21 stops drinking illegally we can all do more. But the question taxpayers should be asking is, "Are the government's efforts to prevent illegal underage drinking working and, if not, should we continue to throw good money after bad?"

Most taxpayers probably are unaware that a 2001 Government Accounting Office (GAO) report revealed that 23 government agencies are spending at least 71.1 million tax dollars annually on efforts to prevent underage drinking, and approximately $769 million of grant money is allocated to the states to address prevention efforts. The troubling part is that the report concluded the federal government doesn't know where that money is going or whether it is being spent effectively. In a time of budget deficits and a soft economy, the government can't afford to be so reckless with our tax dollars.

Last year, when a few members of Congress were urging appropriators to fund a multimillion-dollar media campaign to fight underage drinking, Congress made the sound decision to exercise some oversight. What was needed, and what Congress requested, was a thorough review of which government and private-sector programs work and which do not.

The National Beer Wholesalers Association (NBWA) supported Congress and strongly advocated for a study to review all existing programs and identify those that work. Unfortunately, however, the NAS wasted that opportunity and the $500,000 in taxpayer money that was allocated for the audit by ignoring the intent of Congress.

Rather than focusing on existing programs that have been successful in fighting illegal underage drinking, the NAS panel blamed the products, the advertising, popular culture and the alcohol industry. After more than one year and $500,000 spent, the panel recommended exactly what a similar panel recommended 22 years ago: raising taxes on adult consumers of legal drinking age.

Now the few members of Congress who align themselves with the neo-Prohibitionist movement are trumpeting this study as a critical reason to allocate millions of tax dollars for more government programs. The problem is this study never accomplished what Congress intended an audit of which programs are effective.

Some of the most effective programs are being conducted in our communities, not necessarily by government agencies. Private-sector groups, foundations, nonprofit organizations and faith-based groups are avoiding bureaucratic red tape and taking their message directly to homes and schools. Congress needs to know what works.

It is beyond irresponsible that the NAS chose to disregard the instructions from Congress. When Congress asked for a comprehensive review of existing programs, a reasonable assumption might have been to utilize existing research to build on the GAO report. This might have included an audit of federal-government programs and certainly would have sought input from those agencies that regulate licensed beverages most importantly the state alcohol-beverage commissions.

Instead of focusing on existing programs implemented by federal, state and local governments, the alcohol industry, advocacy groups and others, the NAS chose to focus on raising taxes as a means to curb underage drinking. But this theory is not based on real science and falls flat when one reviews actual data. …

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