Policy Strategies

Lawmakers have developed, enacted, and applied a variety of policy strategies that target society- and community-level influences to reduce underage drinking and its associated consequences. These strategies include raising the minimum legal drinking age (MLDA), setting lower blood alcohol concentration (BAC) limits for young drivers, and limiting commercial and social access to alcohol.

Research suggests that policies are more likely to be effective if they do the following:

  • Hold adults accountable. For example, adults can be held accountable for the purchase of beer kegs. State keg registration laws requiring retailers to tag, sticker, or engrave an identification number on kegs that exceed a specified capacity (two- to eight-gallon minimum, depending on the state), help law enforcement identify the liable adult that purchased kegs used in underage drinking situations.[1]
  • Increase the price of alcohol. Increasing the price of alcohol through excise taxes is associated with effectively reducing underage consumption—both the number of times consumed and amount consumed.2 Price increases are also associated with reductions in various alcohol-related problems, including motor vehicle fatalities and driving while intoxicated.3
  • Provide deterrents to using alcohol or incentives for not using. Suspending the driver’s license of a person under age 21 following a conviction for any alcohol or other drug violation is an effective way to increase compliance with minors in possession laws.4 Setting the legal blood alcohol concentration (BAC) limit to 0.00 or 0.02 for young people under the age of 21 also has been shown to reduce traffic deaths among young people.5 Reduced BAC levels for minors are usually paired with a variety of driving restrictions that are gradually lifted as the driver gains experience.
  • Restrict use and sale of alcohol. Restricting alcohol sales at youth- and community-oriented events (e.g., county fairs, sporting events, political fundraisers) may lead to reduced underage consumption and its consequences.6
  • Restrict alcohol advertising that targets young people. Prohibiting advertisements that target minors is associated with fewer youth alcohol-related, single-vehicle, and driver traffic fatalities.7 Both partial and complete bans on alcohol advertising are associated with reduced alcohol consumption, including adolescent binge drinking.8
  • Educate the public about increased enforcement efforts. For policy changes and enforcement to be successful, the public must know what policies they are expected to follow, and the extent to which penalties for violating such policies are appropriately severe, and swiftly and consistently applied.

Policies summarized in this section include the following:

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) fully supports federal restrictions on lobbying using federal funds by HHS grant recipients. In general, recipients of federal funds are not allowed to use said federal funding to lobby federal, state, or local officials or their staff to receive additional funding or influence legislation. As a general matter, these lobbying restrictions preclude recipients from: Spending federal funds to influence an officer or employee of any agency or Congressional member/staff regarding federal awards; using grants funds provided to non-profit organizations or institutions of higher education to influence an election, contribute to a partisan organization, or influence enactment or modification of any pending federal or state legislation; or expending federal funds to influence federal, state, or local officials or legislation.

Appropriations Acts for Fiscal Years 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2015, expand anti-lobbying restrictions and provide:

No part of any appropriation contained in this Act or transferred pursuant to section 4002 of Public Law 111-148 shall be used, other than for normal and recognized executive-legislative relationships, for publicity or propaganda purposes, for the preparation, distribution, or use of any kit, pamphlet, booklet, publication, electronic communication, radio, television, or video presentation designed to support or defeat the enactment of legislation before the Congress or any State or local legislature or legislative body, except in presentation to the Congress or any State or local legislature itself, or designed to support or defeat any proposed or pending regulation, administrative action, or order issued by the executive branch of any State or local government, except in presentation to the executive branch of any State or local government itself.

No part of any appropriation contained I this Act or transferred pursuant to section 4002 of Public Law 111-148 shall be used to pay the salary or expenses of any grant or contract recipient, or agent acting for such recipient, related to any activity designed to influence the enactment of legislation, appropriations, regulation, administrative action, or executive order proposed or pending before the Congress or any State government, State legislature or local legislature or legislative body, other than for normal and recognized executive-legislative relationships or participation by an agency or officer of a State, local or tribal government in policymaking and administrative processes within the executive branch of that government.

The prohibitions in subsections [above] shall include any activity to advocate or promote any proposed, pending or future Federal, State, or local tax increase, or any proposed, pending, or future requirement or restriction on any legal consumer product, including its sale or marketing, including but not limited to the advocacy or promotion of gun control.

Additional information on Federal Restrictions on Lobbying for HHS Financial Assistance Recipients can be found here: http://www.hhs.gov/grants/grants/grants-policies-regulations/lobbying-restrictions.html#xi.

1 Ringwalt, C. L., & Paschall, M. J. (2011). The utility of keg registration laws: A cross-sectional study. Journal of Adolescent Health, 48(1), 106–108.

2 Chaloupka, F. J., & Laixuthai, A. (1993). Youth alcohol use and public policy. Contemporary Policy Issues, 11(4), 70–81; Coate, D., & Grossman, M. (1986). Effects of alcoholic beverage prices and legal drinking ages on youth alcohol use. Retrieved from http://www.nber.org/papers/w1852.pdf?new_window=1; Grossman, M., Chaloupka, F. J., Saffer, H., & Laixuthai, A. (1994). Effects of alcohol price policy on youth: A summary of economic research. Journal of Research on Adolescence, 4(2), 347–364; Hollingworth, W., Ebel, B. E., McCarthy, C. A., Garrison, M. M., Christakis, D. A., & Rivara, F. P. (2006). Prevention of deaths from harmful drinking in the United States: The potential effects of tax increases and advertising bans on young drinkers. Journal of Studies on Alcohol, 67(2), 300–308; and Williams, J., Chaloupka, F. J., & Wechsler, H. (2005). Are there differential effects of price and policy on college students’ drinking intensity? Contemporary Economic Policy, 23(1), 78–90.

3 Grossman, M., Chaloupka, F. J., Saffer, H., & Laixuthai, A. (1994). Effects of alcohol price policy on youth: A summary of economic research. Journal of Research on Adolescence, 4(2), 347–364; Grossman, M., & Saffer, H. (1986). Beer taxes, the legal drinking age, and youth motor vehicle fatalities. Retrieved from http://www.nber.org/papers/w1914.pdf?new_window=1; Ponicki, W. R., Gruenewald, P. J., & LaScala, E. A. (2007). Joint impacts of minimum legal drinking age and beer taxes on US youth traffic fatalities, 1975 to 2001. Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, 31(5), 804–813; and Young, D. J., & Bielinska-Kwapisz, A. (2006). Alcohol prices, consumption, and traffic fatalities. Southern Economic Journal, 72(3), 690–703.

4Cavazos-Rehg, P. A., Krauss, M. J., Spitznagel, E. L., Chaloupka, F. J., Schootman, M., Grucza, R. A., & Bierut, L. J. (2012). Associations between selected state laws and teenagers’ drinking and driving behaviors. Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, 36(9), 1647–1652; Ulmer, R. G., Shabanova, V. I., & Preusser, D. F. (2001). Evaluation of use and lose laws. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Transportation, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

5Fell, J. C., Fisher, D. A., Voas, R. B., Blackman, K., & Tippetts, A. S. (2009). The impact of underage drinking laws on alcohol-related fatal crashes of young drivers. Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research, 33(7), 1208–1219; Voas, R. B., Tippetts, A. S., & Fell, J. C. (2003). Assessing the effectiveness of minimum legal drinking age and zero-tolerance laws in the United States. Accident Analysis & Prevention, 35(4), 579–587.

6Bormann, C., & Stone, M. (2001). The effects of eliminating alcohol in a college stadium: The Folsom Field beer ban. Journal of American College Health, 50(2), 81–88; Johannessen, K., Glider, P., Collins, C., Hueston, H., & DeJong, W. (2001). Preventing alcohol-related problems at the University of Arizona’s homecoming: An environmental management case study. American Journal of Drug & Alcohol Abuse, 27(3), 587–597; Toomey, T. L., Erickson, D. J., Patrek, W., Fletcher, L. A., & Wagenaar, A. C. (2005). Illegal alcohol sales and use of alcohol control policies at community festivals. Public Health Reports, 120(2), 165–173.

7Smith, R. C., & Geller, S. E. (2009). Marketing and alcohol-related traffic fatalities: Impact of alcohol advertising targeting minors. Journal of Safety Research, 40(5), 359–364.  

8Saffer, H., & Dave, D. (2002). Alcohol consumption and alcohol advertising bans. Applied Economics, 34(11), 1325–1334; Saffer, H., & Dave, D. (2006). Alcohol advertising and alcohol consumption by adolescents. Health Economics, 15(6), 617–637.