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The Buzz

A Beerfly's view. If you see anything here that seems crazy, click here.

Vintage Buzz

2007 Buzz

Mar. '07: Defined or Divided?

Feb. '07: Intro to Blog

Jan. '07: Best of 2006

2006 Buzz

Dec. '06: 10 Predictions

Nov. '06: Cold November Rain

Oct. '06: Just Because You Can

Sept. '06: It's Worth It

August '06: Messin' With Us

July '06: Break the Chains

June '06: Viva El Hefe!

May '06: Just Like Wine

Apr. '06: Mixed Messages

Mar. '06: We Print the Truth

Feb. '06: The Fairer Sex

Jan. '06: Best of 2005

2005 Buzz

Dec. '05: Look at Me Drink!

Nov. '05: Malt Monsters

Oct. '05: Sweetness

Sep. '05: When to Fold

Aug. '05: Little Nightmares

July '05: American Spirit

June '05: Miller Time 

May. '05: Breathing Beer 

April '05: Now It's Personal

Mar. '05: 7% Ain't Enough

Feb. '05: Down to 18 

Jan. '05: Best of 2004 

2004 Buzz

Dec. '04: Joys of the Dark 

Nov. '04: The Next Store 

Oct. '04: Beer's Image 

Sept. '04: Clearly Insane 

August '04: Love of Lager

July '04: Speak Up!

June '04: Get Drafted

May '04: Shedding Tiers

April '04: Keg Party

March '04: Ultra Madness

February '04: Case Law

January '04: Best of 2003

2003 Buzz

Dec. '03: Wine good!

Nov. '03: Say Anything

Oct. '03: Shots at Saveur

Sept. '03: Pay For It!

August '03: Subtlety

July '03: RIP, Corner Bar

June '03: Screw 'Em!

May '03: Extreme Beer?

April '03: Liquor Taxes

March '03: St. Patrick's

February '03: Coffee

January '03: Taxes


April, 2007

Deadly Serious

April is Alcohol Awareness Month. So here are some statistics for you.

Approximately 5 college students are killed every day as a result of alcohol-related injuries.

40 percent of all college students binge drink.

49.4 percent of full-time students between 18 and 22 years old binge drink, abuse prescription drugs and/or abuse illegal drugs each month.

"At Virginia Tech, approximately 80 percent of students drink. Fifty percent of Tech students drink less than once a week or choose not to drink at all. Tech has always had around 57 percent of students participate in "at-risk" drinking, or binge drinking."

About 25 percent of college students in the U.S. today meet the criteria of being clinically abusive with alcohol.

Each year, more than 1,700 college students 18 to 24 years old die of unintentional injuries, including car crashes, linked to alcohol, according to federally supported research.

Only 7 percent of alcoholic beverages consumed for the first time by underage drinkers are done in venues that sell alcoholic beverages legally.

Nearly 100,000 females on campuses across the country are raped or assaulted per year due to alcohol-related incidents (a rate of over 250 every day)

"Binge drinking in on the rise among full-time college students aged 18 to 22."

In 2006, 7.3% of college students reported that alcohol use affected their individual academic performance, almost half the number (15.6%) of those whose academic performance was affected by video games and Internet usage.

79% of college students reported that they had less than six drinks the last time they "partied."


Sobering numbers.  Some of them might not be true. So here are some more, some of which may not be entirely accurate.

The percentage of college freshmen who reported drinking beer frequently or occasionally is at the lowest level since tracking began in 1966, 12 percent lower than in 2000 and down 43 percent since its peak in 1982.

The percentage of college freshmen who spent six or more hours "partying" in a typical week during the last year in high school has declined 40 percent since 1987, a record-low level.

According to a survey of 1,000 alcohol beverage retailers, nearly all retailers (96%) report using ID checking materials. 93 percent of retailers surveyed said ID checking materials are effective in helping prevent sales to underage people.

The rate of current alcohol use among 12-17 year-olds declined significantly from 17.6% in 2004 to 16.5% in 2005. 83 percent of adolescents (ages 12-17) do not drink, and 72 percent of 12-20 year-olds do not drink.

In February 2005, a college student at Chico (Calif.) University died in a fraternity hazing after being forced to drink glass after glass...of water.

USA Today reporters Robert Davis and Anthony DeBarros, writing in 2006, searched available records nationwide for deaths of college students in order to write a report on the tragic deaths from alcohol-related incident. They found a total of 857 actual deaths in six years. Of these, approximately 180 were alcohol-related and related to the person's status as a college student, or approximately 30 alcohol-related deaths each year. Tragic, but far short of the estimated 1,700 deaths a year reported above.


So what? We've got dueling statistics. I could tell you that the statistics from the first list came from well-funded anti-alcohol groups and agencies, and then cast aspersions on them, noting that their funding levels depend on the perception of the level of underage and college age drinking (two different things: most of the country's 12 million college students are 21 or older). Or I could tell you that the second list came from an anti-prohibitionist crusader and a website sponsored by Anheuser-Busch, and you'd pretty much automatically assume that A-B was cherry-picking data. 

But that doesn't really get us anywhere. Because I'm very upset today about the death of a college freshman at Rider University, just across the Delaware River from my home in Lawrenceville, NJ. Gary DeVercelly died last Friday after drinking too much, way too much, at a fraternity party. He did it fast, he did it without any apparent coercion. And he died.

So this is what: I don't really care about the statistics on either side. Are things worse? Are things better? Gary DeVercelly's dead, and for his parents, it may never get better. I'm really sick of the way these issues get fogged with competing agendas. 

MADD was a great organization when it first started, because it had one goal: stop drunk driving. It was a daunting task, because of inertia, a lack of resources, and years of social and cultural acceptance of the costs of having too much to drink and driving. But MADD, after stunning success, has wandered. They are now much more of a flat-out prohibitionist organization, and seem more concerned about stopping drinking than stopping drunk driving.

I'd like to see us stop wasting our time and efforts on ideas that don't work, that will never work. That's why I spend time every week writing letters against keg registration: it doesn't do a thing to stop dangerous drinking practices, so why waste effort on it? I'd like to see us do some things that will work.

Here are some suggestions.

"Good Samaritan" laws for getting help for underage drinkers. Some colleges have put these in place already as campus policies. It's a simple idea: if an underage person calls in or brings in another underage person who is in danger from drinking, neither one is prosecuted for drinking. Does this "condone" illegal behavior? If it were your kid who got help because of the law, would you really care? Look, make getting counseling part of the payoff if you want, but I don't want any more kids dying because someone was afraid to get them help.

Real education about drinking. Drinking "education" these days consists of telling kids that it's illegal, it's bad for them, and it will cause them to get mangled in car accidents. Then the kids go home and see their parents having a beer, and they either get cynical, or they freak out. Let's tell them the truth about drinking: it's illegal for them until they're 21, just like driving is illegal till they're 16 and voting is illegal until they're 18. Drinking is something most people do without problems, and it can be part of a very healthy lifestyle. Drinking too much, like eating too much, can have very bad consequences. Be honest with them, so that they can make smarter choices.

Give retailers better tools. We've already apparently decided that anyone under 21 isn't really an adult in this country; let's use that. Give them all barcoded IDs that are all in a national database, and make it cheap for bars and liquor stores to get a reader for them. When they turn 21, they drop out of the database. It's 2007. This isn't rocket science. Naturally, if we do wise up and lower the drinking age, we'd adjust this. 

Give retailers better incentives. Instead of punishing retailers for selling to minors, reward them for identifying and seizing fake IDs: cash awards to the bouncer or bartender who snags them. It doesn't even have to be tax money: I'll bet the booze companies will contribute to a fund (and probably police the program for fraud better than the government would, too). Reward the business for not serving minors or overserving legal patrons with positive publicity (and maybe a tax break -- why not, they've probably cut down the costs of enforcement, health care, and social services). It would help if we could find a way to make it easier for a bartender to say "No, you've had enough tonight." 

Make fun of drunks. Young drinkers need to learn that it is most definitely not cool to get plowed. This has worked for years -- decades -- in Europe. MADD and Hollywood have been successful in stigmatizing the drunk driver. Let's stigmatize drunks with an organized campaign. Start young. But please, in conjunction with the "real education" suggestion above: let's make it clear that two beers does NOT make a drunk!

Lower the drinking age. I've made my arguments before, and I continue to make them. The two most important ones in this context: get the 18 to 21 year olds out of private underground parties and into licensed bars; focus enforcement efforts on under-18 year old kids, where they are most effective. Here's a quote from another story (in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette) about a kid who died at Kenyon College two years ago, Colin Boyarski: "You have to ask yourself," said Jeff Bowers, a physician and Knox County coroner. "Are we better banning alcohol on campus and forcing kids to go off campus, or are we better putting them in an environment where we can teach them about drinking responsibly? I don't know the answer." At least he's thinking about it. 

Sponsor serious science on drinking. Way too much of it is junk science right now. Don't sponsor research aimed at headlines, don't sponsor research that reaches its conclusion before the experiment is designed. The purpose of research should be to expand knowledge, not support an agenda. 

I didn't want to put any suggestions in this list that were not concrete, but one does come to mind: be more skeptical of statistics. The "more than 1,700 college students die each year in alcohol-related accidents" is one of the most egregious examples of unsupportable statements that get picked up and used over and over. But scary statistics get reported. 

Why? Good news doesn't sell papers. That link describes a "sting" operation done by the American Medical Association on this with two different press releases, one detailing a study that found elevated rates of cancer in nuke plant workers, the other detailing a study that found no elevated rates of cancer in hundreds of thousands of people who lived near nuke plants. The second study was hardly noticed, the first made headlines. Be skeptical of what you read.

That's all I've got for now. This is a very serious issue, and as such, one that deserves a lot more serious attention than we're affording it. Let's work on some real solutions to the problem that acknowledge that moderate drinking is both legal and acceptable, and stop trying to lard up the discussion with hysteria and anti-alcohol neo-Prohibitionism. People are dying. That's more important than scoring points, grant money, or sales. 



Copyright 2008 Lew Bryson. All rights reserved. 
Fee required for reprints in any commercial media.
Revised: April 02, 2007