Scotland Set to Go Forward with Minimum Unit Pricing

A Scottish gent drinks relatively low price alcoholOn November 15, 2017, the UK Supreme Court cleared the way for Scotland to institute a decisive strategy to control death and injury from alcohol—minimum unit pricing (MUP). By setting a floor for retail price of alcohol, MUP places high-ABV, low-price beverages in a higher price tier, creating a financial barrier to binge drinking. Although the policy had been passed in 2012, the Scotch Whiskey Association (an industry group backed by global alcohol giant Diageo) sued in both UK and European Union courts to keep it from going into effect. After the 2017 decision, the Association announced they would no longer be challenging it, marking a victory of public health advocates in Scotland and a promising precedent for legislators worldwide.


“This has been a long road—no doubt the policy will continue to have its critics—but it is a bold and necessary move to improve public health,” Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon told the BBC.


Unlike strict price controls or excise taxes, Scotland’s minimum unit pricing sets only the shelf price, meaning the retailer keeps all profits above the prices set by manufacturers. While this does not qualify as a charge-for-harm strategy since no funds are recouped by the state, it was a key to the Supreme Court’s decision. The judges praised the policy’s ability to target “the groups most affected in a way that an increase in excise or VAT does not.”


Scotland is not the first country to implement MUP. Canada empowered its provincial governments to set a floor price for alcohol, a policy that seems to effective when used. A recent study demonstrated that a 10% increase in minimum price in Saskatchewan was associated with an 8% decrease in consumption and 9% decrease in alcohol-related hospitalizations. (By comparison, the province of Alberta opted not to institute MUP, and saw no change in consumption or hospitalization.)


Scottish Health Secretary Shona Robison expects similar reductions. Speaking to the Guardian, she cited 1,265 alcohol-related deaths in 2016, a rise of 10% from the previous year. “These numbers are completely unacceptable. Behind every one of these statistics is a person, a family, and a community.” With MUP in place, Robison’s department predicts 392 fewer deaths and 8,254 hospital admissions tied to alcohol-related causes.


Moreover, young adults are especially sensitive to price, liable to binge drink, and susceptible to harm from injury, accident, and suicide. By setting a price threshold that affects the products specifically targeted at youth, MUP performs double duty as both harm reduction and prevention.


“This was a hard fought victory against an industry not afraid to throw its weight and money around,” said Bruce Lee Livingston, CEO/Executive Director of Alcohol Justice. “Other countries need to take this lesson—price is prevention and Big Alcohol can be beaten.”


The BBC report notes that David Cameron, at that time the Prime Minister of the UK, pushed for MUP in 2012. That effort wilted in the face pushback from Big Alcohol, but after Scotland’s success, the other constituent countries of the UK are expected to approach similar legislation individually.


MUP goes into effect in Scotland on May 1, 2018. Its effectiveness will be monitored and the policy subject to a renewal vote after 6 years.


READ MORE about the legal fight for minimum unit pricing.


READ MORE about the fight for common-sense regulations in alcohol sales.

CAPA 2nd Annual Summit a Success

Thank you to CAPA 2nd annual summit participantsThanks to all our members!

Over 100 alcohol prevention allies from across the state gathered in Los Angeles on September 18th for the 2nd Annual CAPA Summit to celebrate their victory over the 4 am Bar Bill and plan for the coming year. We were joined by keynote speaker, Jacob Appelsmith, Director of Alcoholic Beverage Control, and LA City Council Member Paul Koretz. Alcohol Prevention Heroes honored included Assembly Member Raul Bocanegra (D-39). ABC PIO John Carr, Lynne Goodwin of Friday Night Live Partnership and Jaime Rich of Center for Human Development.

Thanks to all who made the day one of spirit and energy -- we look making CAPA even stronger in the year to come.

Big Alcohol Lunges to Take Over Cannabis

a pint of pot, anyone?Public health advocates face a complicated question: how can marijuana’s growing acceptance as a recreational and medical product be reconciled with the potential for a powerful pot industry to engage in the kinds of reckless, corrupt, and manipulative practices Big Alcohol has mastered? Constellation Brands, the owner of Corona beer and Svedka vodka among other brands, offers an easy answer: with their purchase of a 10% stake in Canopy Growth, they declare Big Alcohol’s intention to be the marijuana industry.

With Monday’s (10/30/17) $191 billion dollar investment in the Canadian marijuana producer Canopy, Constellation has declared its intention to get out in front of the legalization of recreational marijuana in Canada and the U.S. “Our company’s success is the result of our focus on identifying early-stage consumer trends, and this is another step in that direction,” Constellation CEO Rob Sands told Bloomberg Businessweek.

What that means seems still up for debate, even among the business partners themselves. Bruce Linton, the CEO of Canopy—which makes medicinal marijuana products for the Canadian market—reassured Bloomberg that “[t]here’s no need to include alcohol, nor is there an intent to include alcohol” in their products. Yet Constellation told Beer Business Daily (subscription required), “There are going to be alcoholic beverages that also contain cannabis.”

This presents multiple problems both for public health advocates and independent marijuana producers. The resources of Big Alcohol, compared to those of marijuana companies, are vast, including access to lobbyists and the ability to distort public health research. While Canopy currently works in a regulated medical marijuana space, once full legalization passes, Big Alcohol’s expertise in tearing down safety regulations, promoting junk science, and marketing to youth will introduce a raft of health problems that negate the benefits of prescription weed.

“The alcohol companies are somewhat terrified of this industry,” a rival marijuana executive told Bloomberg. “They see cannabis as a substitute for alcohol.” Data on chronic marijuana use are scant, so it remains unclear whether long-term marijuana use is better for the public health, but this buyout makes that issue moot: if Big Alcohol holds the marijuana industry’s reins, cannabis has zero chance of mitigating alcohol-related harms.

This buyout could signal the start of a race to the bottom among marijuana companies. MolsonCoors and Diageo both told Bloomberg in a separate article they are anticipating entering the marijuana industry, and their entry will instantly create Big Marijuana and gut independent growers that don’t enjoy such partnerships.

“Big Alcohol is what happens when you fail at regulating a recreational drug company,” said Michael Scippa, Public Relations Director of Alcohol Justice. “We can’t allow Big Marijuana to become something similar—and we really can’t let them be the exact same companies.”

READ MORE about how California’s marijuana regulators must not make the same mistakes we made with alcohol.

2017 California Alcohol Legislation Wrapup

the final win-loss tallies for ca alcohol legislationAs the 2017 legislative session wraps up, prevention advocates celebrate a handful of key victories—most notably, the defeat of SB 384, Scott Weiner's reckless 4 a.m. last call bill. But alcohol legislation remains a pressing concern, both in terms of promoting public safety and preventing reckless giveaways to Big Alcohol.

The following bills were of particular import to Alcohol Justice and the California Alcohol Policy Alliance. "Win" means AJ/CAPA supported the bill and it passed, or opposed the bill and it failed. "Loss" means a supported bill failed, or an opposed one passed.

2017 final scores 
AJ: 6 wins, 13 losses
CAPA: 3 wins, 4 losses

In addition, the legislature sometimes reserves the right to revisit bills that stalled in committee in the following year. These two-year bills are listed at the end.


Assembly Bills

AB 63 vetoed

Extends the age range for provisional drivers' licenses from 16 to 21.

AJ and CAPA supported—provisional licenses as part of a Graduated Driver Licensing program are effective at reducing underage drunk driving.


AB 297 signed into law

Authorizes alcohol sales at a wine and cultural museum in Sonoma County.

AJ opposed—if a venue needs a special permit, by definition it is in an area that is overconcentrated with alcohol outlets. New licenses should be issued according to best practices, not on a haphazard, case-by-case basis.

AB 400 signed into law

Allows alcohol sales at pre-ticketed State Capitol events intended to raise awareness of the food and wine of the Sacramento region.

AJ opposed—this bill gives the appearance that the Legislature is favoring the alcohol industry over public health.


AB 471 signed into law

Allows the City of San Francisco to add 30 alcohol licenses (5 per year over 6 years), restricted to specific neighborhoods.

AJ opposed—San Francisco is already the most overconcentrated county in California. Rather than reassign existing licenses to spread outlets out across the city, this bill simply shoehorns in even more.


AB 479 dead

Increases the tax rate on distilled spirits and uses that revenue to eliminate taxes on women's health and hygiene products.

AJ supported—raising alcohol taxes is a time-honored means to reduce alcohol harm.


AB 522 signed into law

Allows nonprofits to receive special temporary licenses in order to hold raffles involving wine or beer.

AJ opposed—alcohol company in-kind donations to nonprofits are a growing and problematic trend, giving the industry free marketing and a positive veneer while costing them less than an outright cash donation.


AB 609 signed into law

Extends an exemption to certain activities allowing licensees to provide free distilled spirits or wine to consumers at invitation-only sales or distribution events.

AJ opposed—this perpetuates the permeation of alcohol into all parts of the waking day.


AB 711 signed into law

Allows beer manufacturers to provide free or discounted rides through taxis and ride-sharing services.

AJ and CAPA opposed—while free rides for people who would drive dangerously is a good thing, these promotions are delivered before the fact—rather than help address acutely intoxicated would-be drivers, they normal overconsumption and encourage recipients to go out and drink dangerously.


AB 997 signed into law

Allows patrons of wineries and/or breweries that are physically adjacent to bring alcohol from one onto the grounds of the other.

AJ opposes—alcohol sellers are supposed to be aware of how much they are serving their patrons. This bill vastly compounds the difficulty of that task.


AB 1046 dead

Classifies soju or shochu of 24% ABV or less as a wine.

AJ opposed—these are very high ABV, nearly tasteless "wines" that are most often used as a cocktail base. This bill lets any distilled spirit producers sell their product at qualifying wine-licensed outlets just by labeling it soju/shochu.


AB 1054 dead

Exempts the use of "palcohol" (powdered alcohol) for certain uses in "nonpowdered products".

AJ and CAPA opposed—this bill tears holes in last year's palcohol ban.


AB 1221 signed into law

Establishes a statewide Responsible Beverage Service training program for California, requiring that all on-sale retailers complete the training. Provides both an overview of state laws and regulations and of the physiological effects of alcohol.

AJ supported—individuals at points-of-sale can play a key role in reducing the harms from alcohol overconsumption. Moreover, these trainings help ensure staff follow existing laws.


AB 1722 signed into law

End prohibition on the issuance of a license, other than an on-sale beer license, for premises situated more than one mile outside the limits of an incorporated city and within 2 miles of any camp or establishment of men, numbering 25 or more, engaged upon or in connection with the construction, repair, or operation of any work, improvement, or utility of a public or quasi-public character.

AJ and CAPA opposed—this was an opaque bill that changed form several times. In the end, however, it increases the number of alcohol outlets, and that will always have a negative impact on public health.



Senate Bills 

SB 65 signed into law

Makes driving, boating, or flying while drinking an alcoholic beverage punishable as an infraction.

AJ and CAPA support—this is a common-sense intervention aimed at reducing drinking and driving (or drinking and boating, or drinking and flying).


SB 228 signed into law

Allows beer on the grounds of a public schoolhouse if it is part of an instructional program in brewing.

AJ opposed—public schoolhouses are primarily intended for the education of children. Allowing alcohol on premises promotes the product and normalizes its consumption. In addition, this bill makes no effort to include public health and safety or RBS training as part of a curriculum directly involving tasting and making alcoholic beverages.


SB 384 dead

Allows local jurisdictions to extend last-call times in bars and restaurants to 4 a.m.

AJ and CAPA opposed—our positions have been made clear elsewhere. Suffice to say that pushing back last-call times creates a more dangerous driving environment; stresses already overtaxed emergency and law enforcement systems; merges early-morning commuter traffic and late-night partier traffic; and creates a lasting environment of overconsumption in a state that has yet to establish a consistent, comprehensive late-night transit plan in any city.

WIN, but this bill will absolutely come back

SB 461 signed into law

Extends a loophole allowing distilled spirit shippers to own certain hotel and motel on-sale stores.

AJ opposed—this extends an existing violation of tied-house laws. Liquor manufacturers should not own on-sale establishments.


SB 582 signed into law

signed into law

Allows for the alcohol industry to purchase advertising space in the new Los Angeles Chargers football stadium, as well as the adjacent performance venue.

AJ and CAPA opposed—alcohol permeates the sports world, and sports advertising is a prime channel for delivering alcohol advertising to kids. Moreover, this bill would allow manufacturers to purchase space from or for on-sale locations, in clear violation of the three-tier system.


SB 611 signed into law

Improves on 2016's legislation requiring ignition interlock devices for individuals convicted of certain forms of driving under the influence.

AJ supported—these laws improve on ignition interlock devices, a smart idea for preventing DUI.


SB 664 signed into law

Allows alcohol manufacturers to purchase advertising on behalf of on-sale licensees at AT&T Park in San Francisco and the Chargers' stadium in Inglewood.

AJ opposed—as with SB 582, sports advertising gives the alcohol industry unfettered access to an underage audience. Moreover, it violates the three-tier system.



Two-Year Bills

These bills will be revisited by the legislature in 2018.

AB 330 

Authorizes the court to order a person convicted of driving under the influence to enroll and participate in, and successfully complete, a qualified “24/7 Sobriety” monitoring program during probation.


AB 629

Allows art galleries to give away wine or beer to patrons.

AJ and CAPA opposed—like last year's dry-bar bill, this would put alcohol in more places where it doesn't need to be. Gallery employees would be furnishing alcohol without any licensing, training, monitoring, or enforcement. The likelihood that this would lead to underage drinkers getting access to alcohol is close to 100%.

SB 254

Allows for companies to deliver alcohol and tobacco, if licensed by ABC.

AJ opposed unless amended—home delivery of alcohol and tobacco is dangerous and depressing, but it already occurs in California. This bill does not specify how delivery personnel will be trained, how age will be verified, limits on time of delivery. Enforcement would be very difficult, a major problem in California's current "easier to ask for forgiveness than permission" business culture.

SB 378

Enhances ABC's ability to investigates violations and take action—including suspending licenses—against alcohol sellers on conditions of imminent threats to health and safety.

AJ and CAPA supported—ABC neeeds greater authority in bringing action against problem retailers. However, the list of threats to health and safety should be extended to include illegal alcohol sales.


 NOTE: Although SB 384, the 4 A.M. bar bill, was gutted and amended and no longer has a bill number, its sponsor, Sen. Scott Weiner (D-San Francisco) has threatened to revive it in the second year of this session. Though this proposal flies in the face of legislative tradition, we take his threat seriously and urge all allies to remain vigilant. Check for news, updates, and action alerts.

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READ MORE about alcohol legislation in California and the U.S.