Conflict of Interest

Would you trust a study about the benefits of soda funded by The Coca-Cola Company?

Probably not.

So when the National Institutes of Health ordered the halt of a $100 million, 10-year study of moderate drinking in mid-May, prevention groups – including Texans Standing Tall – applauded the move.

That’s because the controversial study was being funded in large part by the alcoholic beverage industry—Anheuser Busch InBev, Heineken, and other industry giants were giving donations to a private foundation that supports the NIH. Roughly two-thirds of the funding for the study was coming from liquor and beer companies.

According to the NIH Director himself, “This particular study was set up in such a way that the funding is largely coming from the beverage industry and there is evidence that NIH employees assisted in recruiting those funds for this study in a way that would violate our usual policies.”

The New York Times reported that the study was being billed as the kind that “could change the American diet, a huge clinical trial that might well deliver all the medical evidence needed to recommend a daily alcoholic drink as part of a healthy lifestyle.”

The problem is that the people being billed – liquor company representatives – had a heavily vested interest in the outcome of the study.

We all stand to lose since results skewed in the industry’s favor would likely promote and encourage unhealthy drinking behaviors. Ultimately, this would negatively affect individuals’ health and public health.

The potential damage a study like this could have on prevention is tremendous. For decades, prevention organizations have been working at the forefront to reduce excessive alcohol use and counter the increasing normalization of consumption – especially among young people. In recent years, we’ve had to work overtime to combat the rise in marketing and promotion by the alcohol industry, which has slowly convinced us that alcohol consumption is good for our health.

A study like this one would make it more challenging to debunk these dangerous myths, reversing decades of important work in prevention, awareness, and education. Critics also worry the research would not fully capture the harms and risks associated with drinking. Another concern? No other long-term trial “had ever asked participants to drink, much less drink every day.” With existing research showing that drinking daily can have negative health effects, this study seems ill-conceived and potentially dangerous. (Keep in mind, this was a long-term study that was supposed to include about 7,000 people drinking daily over the course of several years.)

Because the study has only been suspended, there is still a possibility it will resume. But critics and advocacy groups have been vocal about the importance of stopping this study for good, and there is pressure on the NIH to distance itself from the alcohol industry after the perceived “cozying up to Big Alcohol.”

In the meantime, we will continue to monitor any news relating to the NIH study and continue working with prevention groups across Texas to dispel myths, educate the public, and reduce underage alcohol use to help create healthier, safer communities.

Want to support our efforts? You can follow us on social media, join your local coalition, make a one-time or recurring financial gift to fund our work, or contact us to learn more and get involved!

Drinking to Cope with Parenthood Has Reached “Meme” Status

We’ve recently noticed – and perhaps you have too – a lot of internet memes, Instagram photos, ads, merchandise, and even events that make light of drinking to deal with the challenges of parenthood. At first, we didn’t think too much of it and maybe even gave some of the jokes a little chuckle. But once we started paying attention, we really started noticing it, and it became more and more troubling. What message are we sending our kids? That they’re so bad they drive us to drink? Or that drinking is the best way to cope with stress? Take a look for yourself:


Despite mountains of research telling us drinking alcohol is not the best way to deal with stress, we continue to see a growing collection of these types of things. It made us wonder – when did the alcohol industry decide parents were the ideal target?

From sponsoring wine and beer events for moms and dads to advertising gifts on Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, we’re shifting the cultural norms to something that ultimately, is not healthy for our children.

But, the more we see the social media posts, ads, t-shirts, mugs, and on and on and on, the more normal it becomes. Not only do we believe that “everyone else is drinking,” we believe it’s warranted. However, for every pretty photo of a happy hour cocktail shared on Instagram, there’s a real-life consequence to our parent drinking culture: our kids are watching, and we’re normalizing alcohol use for them, too.

We’ve shifted our cultural norms so that our kids see us treating alcohol like it’s any ol’ drink – soda, juice, coffee, tea. But it’s not. At its core, alcohol is a drug that can have severely negative consequences – especially when young people use it.

So, we don’t want to just brush this culture shift off. We want to join others in calling it out for what it is: exploitative marketing capitalizing on the difficulties of parenting.

We’re not saying parents should never relax and unwind with a glass of wine or a cold one here and there. But the fact of the matter is, parents have a huge influence over their children’s future drinking habits.

Case in point, this internet post of a child’s response to a school assignment asking them to write one sentence about a family member and draw a picture:

More often than not, our children will adopt the behaviors we model for them. If we tell our kids not to drink to fit in or deal with difficulties, but they then see us drinking to “cope with the stresses of parenting,” what message are we giving them, and what behavior are they going to copy?

Parenting is hard. It’s one of the toughest jobs in the world, and it can seem flat out overwhelming at times. Building connections and getting support from others is an important and meaningful way to strengthen our villages so we can keep our kids healthy and safe.

At the same time, it’s important for us to pay more attention to the messaging we’re being fed when it comes to parental drinking behaviors – it’s a kind of manipulation that is so pervasive, we may not even recognize it as marketing. However, being aware of it and knowing that our behavior influences the future behavior of our children might encourage more of us to scroll past that “mommy juice” meme on Facebook without giving it a “like.”

What kind of messages about parental drinking have you all seen circulating lately? Are they more pervasive with the rise of social media? What concerns do you have about this type of consumer marketing strategy? We’d love to hear from you in the comments below!

 

Talks and Activities Can Help Prevent Summertime Underage Drinking

 

Your kids are out of school for the summer – but from 9 to 5, you’re still at the office.

How are your teenagers spending the dog days of summer? Are you involved in their day-to-day activities? Do you know where they’ll be, who they will be with, and what they’ll be doing? If they are hanging out at home and/or spending their time with friends, do you know their parents, and have you talked to them about underage drinking?

Though these conversations are important year-round, they’re especially critical in the summer time, when kids are also far more likely to have their first drink. After all, on an average day in June or July, more than 11,000 kids will start drinking. By comparison, that number averages 5,000 to 8,000 during the rest of the year.

If your child isn’t taking summer school, working a summer job, or otherwise occupied in the months ahead, they may find themselves with time on their hands – the kind of leisure that can lead to boredom and experimentation.

Your high schoolers, who may be spending their days hanging out at the lake, going to festivals, or attending parties – where kids overwhelming get their access to alcohol– need to know you don’t approve of them drinking alcohol. If they’re spending time at friends’ houses, where older siblings or adults might be willing to supply alcohol, your children are more likely to say no if you’ve clearly communicated that you don’t approve of underage drinking. It’s also important to talk to the parents of the peers your children are hanging out with about your expectations. But even when kids don’t drink, too often they get into cars with friends who have been drinking. So remind your kids that they should never ride with anyone who is driving after drinking (in cars, boats, motorcycles, etc.).

As adults, it is our job to create safe environments for children that are free of alcohol. This can include providing them with alternatives during their summer months so that they fill their days with fun, learning, and growth opportunities. Some free and affordable options might include:

  • Volunteering at a local animal shelter or nursing home
  • Swimming at the neighborhood pool
  • Starting a side business, such as dog walking, lawn mowing, or babysitting
  • Working through next year’s school reading list at the local library
  • Planting an herb or vegetable garden
  • Enrolling in a photography or writing class at your local community college

Finally, don’t leave alcohol available in your home; if you have alcohol in your home, lock it up.  You should also check in with parents to see if they have alcohol accessible in their home before your children hang out there.

There are endless ways to fill a summer day that don’t involve underage drinking. And, studies show that the longer kids wait to take their first drink, the lower the odds are that they’ll develop alcohol abuse or dependence as adults. Preventing young people from drinking underage also means we’re protecting them from many of the negative consequences they’re more likely to experience when they drink – things like alcohol-related car crashes and other injuries (e.g., burns, falling, and drowning), unplanned or unprotected sexual activity, physical and sexual assault, abuse of other drugs, or even death from alcohol poisoning.

We hope you’ll get involved in your kids’ daily activities and keep them safe and alcohol-free this summer. For more information about what you can do to help prevent underage drinking with your kids and in your community, contact us at TST@TexansStandingTall.org or 512.442.7501. And, if you have ideas about other safe and healthy activities for youth during the summer months, share them in the comments section down below!

Court Ruling Challenges Little-Known System That Benefits Public Health

This March, just one month before Alcohol Awareness Month, a federal court in Austin ruled that giant retailers like Walmart and Costco can begin selling hard liquor.

Current law prohibits Texas’ publicly traded businesses from owning liquor stores. In the long run, this law is good for public health because it limits consumer availability of liquor and the consequences that come with it.

This fight is a long time coming. More than three years ago, Walmart sued the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission, arguing state liquor laws “unfairly gave family-owned chains the right to obtain unlimited liquor store permits while shutting the largest U.S. retailer out of the lucrative market entirely,” according to this Texas Tribune article.

This court ruling directly affects our current three-tier system of alcohol distribution, which helps the federal and state governments regulate and control the alcohol industry. As its name suggests, the three-tier system is composed of, you guessed it, three tiers:

Tier 1: Suppliers/Producers – anyone who actually makes or supplies the alcohol (e.g., breweries).

Tier 2: Distributors/Wholesalers – those who get alcohol from the suppliers/producers to the places where you buy or consume it.

Tier 3: Retailers – anywhere consumers can get alcohol (e.g., bars, restaurants, grocery stores, package stores)

It’s a rather complicated system and if you’re interested in learning more about it, we’d recommend reading some of Pam Erickson’s work, or checking out Toward Liquor Control, or sending us an email with any questions you may have. However, the bottom line is this: the three-tier system is incredibly important for public health and safety, especially as it relates to our kids.

It may not seem like a big deal, but a system most people are unfamiliar with is protecting our public health, and most of us are unaware that there are strong forces at work seeking to dismantle this system through alcohol deregulation. Small changes like these add up over time and ultimately create situations where we’ve expanded availability of and access to a product that is not an ordinary commodity; it is not like apple juice, where the most likely danger of overconsumption is a full and gurgly tummy.

Let’s paint a picture.

Let’s say Walmart, or another big box store, is now able to sell alcohol. Where do they put it? Is it in a separate section of the store where you must be 21 to enter (like liquor stores)? Or, as you and your family are strolling down the aisles, do you pass the soda…then the beer…and now you’re face to face with a bottle of whiskey?

Adults would no longer need to go to liquor stores, where even the cashier has to be at least 21 years old, to get their whiskey and vodka. With this new “convenience” and increased availability, they can buy liquor while buying groceries, making alcohol to appear as an everyday household item with no risks to our kids.

What about the 16-year-old cashier at a major retailer, who is allowed to sell alcohol in a grocery store under current law? Will this young cashier be more likely to sell whiskey or vodka to his underage friends when they go through his checkout line? How will this tie in with the emergence of online delivery apps, which we recently explored? Will online grocery store delivery now include a bottle of liquor that can be ordered by your teenager?

We don’t yet know all the public health and safety problems we’ll face under this new court ruling, but we do know one thing: when we increase access to alcohol we increase its use among underage drinkers.

We also know that alcohol-impaired driving is a problem among young people. They aren’t binging on milk or soda then crashing a car, they are drinking alcohol and making dangerous decisions. Treating alcohol like other commodities and expanding youth access to it can be a deadly business.

For now, as this case winds its way through the courts, Texans won’t see any changes to liquor availability at large retailers….yet. Advocates should still stay on guard because once again, we find ourselves in a situation where business interests seem to be taking priority over the best interest of our communities and our kids.

The three-tier system “balances alcohol availability, price, and promotional practices” and is an important mechanism for enforcing existing regulations, according to Pam Erickson, former director of the Oregon Liquor Control Commission. And yet, despite its major public health benefits, others are working to dismantle the three-tier system so they can increase their bottom line. In the meantime, we’re closely watching what happens and hope you’ll join us in our efforts to keep the system intact so our communities are healthy and safe for everyone.

If you have any questions, or to get involved, contact us at 512.442.7501 or TST@TexansStandingTall.org.

 

 

 

 

Alcohol Delivery Apps Bring Booze Via Smartphone

Growing up, many of us delighted in the occasional pizza delivery on a weekend night. Packages from the postman arrived when faraway relatives sent birthday and holiday gifts. The term “app” was an abbreviation for “appetizer.”

But in 2018, cardboard boxes are a front-porch staple, and we expect most of our products to be delivered in a matter of days. Delivery apps cut that time down to hours or minutes, bringing groceries, restaurant food, drivers, and household goods to our front doors in no time. It is no surprise that there’s a fast-growing market for alcohol delivery, too.

It’s also no surprise that delivery apps make it easier for underage drinkers to get alcohol through delivery services than from bars or retail stores. The bottom line is that these apps create greater and easier access to alcohol, which is the exact opposite of what we need to do to reduce and prevent underage drinking.

A recent Austin American-Statesman story reported that “in a handful of sting operations conducted by Texas regulators, people younger than the legal drinking age of 21 were able to obtain alcohol using app-based delivery services at more than twice the rate generally found in similar sting operations conducted in bars and liquor stores.”

Until recently, alcohol delivery has predominantly consisted of high-end wine sales; youth aren’t exactly the target market for this kind of online alcohol purchasing.

Now, mobile apps like Drizly and Postmates promise fast alcohol delivery – from beer to bourbon – to our front doors. With smart phones in the hands of roughly 4 in 5 youth, this type of direct shipment to private residences is just a download away for your junior high, high-school, or underage college student.

In this convenience economy, there are many questions that still need to be answered about this new delivery model: Who should be licensed? How do you prevent access by minors?  Who is held accountable for violations?

Ultimately, it will be up to our lawmakers to establish a regulatory framework that addresses public safety, and Texans Standing Tall will be working to make sure future policies address prevention and limit youth access.

As we continue to follow the issue, we will keep everyone updated on what we learn. So, if you haven’t already, make sure to follow us on social media, subscribe to our newsletter, or reach out to us at any time with questions or for more information. And, if you’re alarmed about how these delivery apps increase youth access and would like to get involved by providing testimony during any hearings on the topic, contact Atalie at ANitibhon@TexansStandingTall.org.

Think Before You Pink

Beverly Canin during her luncheon keynote presentation. 

Beverly Canin is first and foremost a patient advocate; she is also a breast cancer survivor.

She led our Summit lunch plenary, speaking about the correlation between alcohol and cancer—specifically female breast cancer.

We know alcohol may increase the risk of breast cancer by damaging DNA in cells, and that alcohol can increase levels of estrogen and other hormones associated with breast cancer. Compared to women who don’t drink at all, women who have three drinks per week have a 15% greater risk of breast cancer. Canin shared these and other startling statistics with our audience at the 2018 Statewide Summit.

She also explained the term “pinkwashing,” which was coined by the organization Breast Cancer Action, where Canin sits on the board of directors.  Pinkwashing occurs when a company or organization promotes a pink ribbon product and appears to support breast cancer research or awareness, but at the same time produces, manufactures, or sells products that are linked to the disease. The alcohol industry has been guilty of pinkwashing, and Canin said it’s important for consumers to do their research and advocate against the practice. One of the more extreme examples of this practice is cancer-related organizations who promote events and fundraisers that often include alcohol, or are sponsored by alcohol companies.

Canin herself was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 2000, and she quickly became aware of the importance of cancer advocacy because so much conflicting information made it difficult to make sense of it all. Through her advocacy, she also became increasingly aware of the link between breast cancer and alcohol consumption.

At Texans Standing Tall, we work to stay up to date and share news and information about the increased risk associated with breast cancer and alcohol. It was meaningful to have an opportunity to hear from a survivor who has excelled at researching the link between breast cancer and alcohol, as well as advocating for herself and for others.

Stories of Hope

From L to R: Cynthia Schiebel, Sierra Castedo, and Nigel Cunningham Williams

Sierra Castedo recalls drinking kahlua with milk as early as age 10. She grew up outside of the U.S. in an environment that was more permissive when it came to youth alcohol use. Having a drink at a young age under parental supervision “wasn’t a big deal.” She drank every day in college, but she was making good grades so she didn’t believe she was an addict – at least not a typical addict.

Nigel Cunningham Williams began getting high every single day when he started attending a public high school. His grades and attendance dropped, his group of friends changed – and his parents decided military school was the answer. (It wasn’t.) After barely graduating from high school, he transitioned from marijuana to mushrooms to methamphetamines. It was only after attending the funeral of a friend who had overdosed that he realized the body in the casket could have been his own.

In one of our plenary sessions at our recent Statewide Summit, Cynthia Schiebel – a licensed professional counselor, trainer, and life coach who has been sober and in recovery for more than 30 years – led a conversation with Sierra and Nigel, who shared their stories of recovery and hope with our Statewide Summit attendees.

Today, Sierra and Nigel are both in long-term recovery, and they are dedicating their lives to helping others who are struggling with addiction as well. Sierra is President of the Center for Students in Recovery at the University of Texas at Austin; Nigel works with Rise Recovery in San Antonio.

The “Stories of Hope” panel reminds us that addiction does not discriminate, that access to drugs and alcohol is easier than we realize, and that younger people are the most vulnerable.
The panelists’ stories also remind us why our prevention work is especially important – if we can make changes in our communities so that it’s harder for all youth to access substances, not only can we help prevent more young people from encountering some of the difficulties that Sierra and Nigel faced, but we can also help save lives.

We are grateful Cynthia, Sierra, and Nigel took the time to share their stories and inspire Summit attendees to keep working towards creating healthier, safer communities for all Texans.

The Heart of Our Work

MADD Victim Advocates Kathy Hernandez and Dani Simien

Kathy Hernandez lost her 19-year-old daughter, Casey, nearly 11 years ago in a devastating car crash. Casey got behind the wheel after she had been drinking at a party where adults provided alcohol.

Dani Simien’s life was forever altered in the same crash. He was Casey’s victim, and at the time of the 2007 crash, he was just 18 years old.

Dani, now 30, became paralyzed as a result of the injuries sustained in the 2007 head-on collision, and a few years later, began working with Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD). Kathy also became involved with MADD as a way to honor her daughter’s life.

Kathy and Dani share a unique bond, and for the last several years, they have also shared the same mission: as MADD representatives, they travel the country, often together, sharing their heartbreaking and inspiring stories with groups like ours.

We were fortunate to have them lead a plenary at our Statewide Summit.

For Dani and Kathy, every speaking opportunity is one more step toward healing and helping others.

It is also an opportunity to teach people that underage drinking and impaired driving affect everyone—even the “good kids.”  Casey excelled academically and athletically, and had set her sights on a career on forensic psychology when she got behind the wheel of her Mustang after consuming an unknown amount of alcohol at a party. Dani, meanwhile, had dreams of his own. Ever since the third grade, he had dreamed of being a firefighter. “I wanted to do certain things with my life,” he shared with the audience. “Instead, I’m in a position to talk to people and tell my story.”

Dani said being an advocate through MADD’s Victim panels, in communities, and in schools has been critical to his healing. Speaking to groups allows him to achieve one of his goals, which is to reach more than one person at a time. He said he and Kathy have “the power to bring life to a story” that they hope people will hear. Beyond telling stories, Kathy and Dani have become activists and advocates. Kathy is involved with her local Council on Alcohol and Drug Abuse so that she can get involved in more prevention work—such as reducing underage drinking through the passage of social host ordinances in her area.

Kathy said she would do anything to trade places with her daughter but because she can’t, she will continue to focus on prevention through advocacy.

“If I can help save parents from having to live this life, then maybe she didn’t die for nothing.”

We all have a role to play in creating a community in which young people aren’t solely responsible for their relationship to alcohol. Through community-based initiatives like social host ordinances, we can hold adults accountable while reducing youth access to alcohol at house parties and in other social situations. In doing so, we can help keep young Texans safe and healthy – not just as kids, but well into adulthood.

New Tax Law Offers Big Cuts to Alcohol Industry

A month ago, President Trump signed the Tax Cut and Jobs Act into law.

As with many major reforms, there are winners and losers. One of the lesser-known winners are the beer, spirits, and wine producers, who will get a two-year tax cut worth $4.2 billion dollars.

This reduction in the federal alcohol excise tax has been called a “public health disaster.” That’s because the “losers” are our own communities—the parents, youth, and concerned citizens, who will feel the unintended consequences of these cuts.

Those unintended consequences come in the form of increased alcohol consumption, higher rates of alcohol-related accidents and injuries, and various economic costs related to drinking. They also mean greater loss of life. Already, approximately 88,000 preventable deaths each year are linked to alcohol, and that number could go up under this new tax law.

Going in the wrong direction

Increasing excise taxes is not only good for public health; it’s good for our pocketbooks. A dime-a-drink tax increase would generate more than $700 million in Texas alone, while curbing teen drinking, impaired driving, and other consequences of alcohol consumption.

Although “increasing taxes” can be politically unpopular, it turns out that most voters approve the idea of higher taxes on luxury products like alcohol. They also want the revenue to go to public education and public safety—something we at Texans Standing Tall can fully endorse. (Already, one-quarter of excise taxes go to public education funding—which means cuts to excise taxes equal cuts to public education funding.)

Under the new law, tax cuts to the alcohol industry will be in effect for two years, but it’s possible they might be extended unless we get involved.

That’s why it’s important for communities to speak out, in whatever form you can: call your congressman, attend a Town Hall, write an email, and share your concerns with your friends, family, and social media networks.

As a part of our efforts to help shape a healthier future in which underage alcohol, tobacco, and other drug use have no place, Texans Standing Tall remains committed to supporting measures that keep us moving in the right direction. We think it’s time for change – how about you?

 

 

Summit is one month away – you should attend!

In a few short weeks, Texans Standing Tall will be hosting our annual Statewide Summit to create healthier and safer communities.

These two days are a huge opportunity to bring together partners, experts, and youth for in-person collaboration and information sharing. Subjects range from the link between alcohol and breast cancer to a discussion on youth substance abuse and its relationship to the justice system.

We encourage everyone to sign up for this special event because we think it’s a great way to bring people together to create positive community change. And, as much as we love our Summit and want to tell you all about it, we think past attendees are a better way to hear about the Summit experience:

The Summit was well organized and provided a unique learning experience to attendees by allowing their participation in breakout sessions. The guest speaker presentations were interesting and provided useful information for attendees. The youth coalition members did a great job on their involvement as co-host and presenters at the Summit.
-Sipriano Gutierrez, Coalition Coordinator, Hockley County VOICES Coalition 

“When I attend any conference or Summit, I do so with the intention of receiving information about prevention opportunities that will help me mentor the youth in my community.  This particular Summit intrigues me because I am able to mentor others while highlighting the great work of many coalitions across our State.  The networking opportunities are endless.”
-Sylvia Garcia, Law Enforcement Instructor, CCTE, EPISD

If you still aren’t sure whether you should attend, check out our full Summit agenda here. There’s time left to register (and you or someone you know may even be eligible for a scholarship)!

We hope to see you in Austin next month!