Happy hour advertising - a bad idea


Senate Bill 120, introduced during this legislative session, seeks to repeal the current ban on happy hour advertising. This is a bad idea.Although New Hampshire is ranked as one of the healthiest states in the country, the misuse of alcohol and other drugs in this state is a serious problem. It is estimated that 125,000 New Hampshire citizens, about one in 10, are dependent on or abuse alcohol and other drugs. The percentage of the New Hampshire population dependent on or abusing alcohol is about 2.5 percent higher than the national average. Bar owners claim bargain drinks simply attract customers to the establishment, but that low prices don't encourage patrons to drink more. To the contrary, there is significant evidence that happy hour promotions increase alcohol consumption. Two studies found that alcohol consumption doubled during happy hours. Numerous studies have found significant associations between patron intoxication and drink specials. Study after study documents that youth exposed to alcohol advertising drink more, increase drinking levels more over time, and continue to increase drinking levels into their late 20s.A study published in November 2009 looked at the relationship between the cost of alcohol in college bars and alcohol consumption by college students and young adults. The results clearly showed that increases in the price of alcohol are accompanied by less alcohol consumption, especially among young people who tend to be on tight budgets.Policymakers should take a look at the research underlying alcohol policy. The social and economic costs associated with alcohol misuse are staggering. These costs include lost productivity, increased health care costs and public safety and criminal justice costs. In 1998, it was estimated that in the United States, the cost of lost productivity as a result of alcohol abuse was $134.2 billion.Underage alcohol consumption costs New Hampshire $180 million per year, when violence, traffic crashes, high-risk sex, property crime, unintentional injuries, poisoning, fetal alcohol syndrome and treatment issues are factored. In 2001, crimes related to alcohol and/or drug dependency cost New Hampshire approximately $144 million.About 50 percent of New Hampshire high school students report current alcohol use; about one in three report binge drinking. Substance use among New Hampshire's youth is among the highest in the United States.There were approximately 4,100 DWI convictions in 2009. In 2009, almost 30 percent of all traffic crashes were alcohol-related; almost 30 percent of traffic fatalities were caused by alcohol. Encouraging drinking by offering discounted alcohol during happy hour will most certainly add to the problem.Alcohol-related productivity losses in the United States are estimated to cost more than $134 billion each year. Problem drinkers use twice as much sick leave as other employees, are five times more likely to file worker's compensations claims, and are more likely to cause injuries to themselves or others while on the job. Under current law, establishments are permitted to promote happy hour specials on arguably their most effective marketing tool - their website - making the need to advertise on radio, in newspapers and through street signage less critical. Balanced against the public health issues science has identified as associated with traditional happy hour advertising, concern regarding the public health impact should outweigh the argument that the currently prohibited advertising is needed to attract customers.Because the misuse of alcohol and drugs has such widespread impact, addressing these issues is everybody's business. Communities, families, religious organizations, educational institutions, civic groups and employers should work to reduce substance use problems. Opposing the repeal on happy hour advertising is an important step in the right direction. Linda Saunders Paquette, executive director of New Futures Inc., a nonpartisan, nonprofit advocacy organization, can be contacted at lpaquette@new-futures.org. The Senate Commerce Committee will hold a hearing on SB 120 beginning at 10:30 a.m. Feb. 22 in the Legislative Office Building, Concord.
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