A Ban on Powdered Alcohol Should Be Our Only Option

Every other year when the Texas Legislature is in session, the issues we care about are examined under a unique legislative lens. We begin to track bills as they are filed; we focus on legislation we will be opposing or supporting; and we share our findings with coalitions, advocates, and supporters.

One of the most important issues we’re monitoring this year is the potential sale of powdered alcohol in Texas.

Powdered alcohol is exactly what it sounds like: alcohol in a powder-like form. Its appearance has been compared to Tang or Kool-Aid, and it would be sold in small pouches intended for consumers to mix with water or another beverage.

The problem with this product is that it is much easier to store, carry, and consume than alcohol – making it more dangerous once it is in the hands of young people.

Currently, powdered alcohol is not sold anywhere in Texas or the United States. We’d like to keep it that way by banning the product in our state.

We are excited that Rep. Trent Ashby (Lufkin) has filed HB1610, which would ban powdered alcohol in Texas. We applaud his efforts to keep young Texans healthy and safe.

Banning powdered alcohol is the only way to keep it from being sold in Texas; it is the only way to keep this harmful product off the shelves – and out of the hands of young people.

We cannot afford to wait until a tragedy occurs to make the necessary policy decision to ban powdered alcohol.

We are thankful Rep. Ashby is championing legislation that bans powdered alcohol in our state. Nearly 40 states have permanently or temporarily banned the product, and several have pending legislation to ban it. Instead of putting business interests ahead of the lives of young people, let’s join those states in making our children’s health and safety our priority.

If you’re interested in educating your lawmaker about this important issue, join us in Austin for our Advocacy Day on February 19th. The day includes a morning training session – where we’ll break down our most important issues – and lawmaker visits (in groups) to educate them about prevention. It’s not too late to register!

Advocacy Day: Worth the Trip to Austin

 

Every other year, our elected officials come together for a 140-day session to pass bills that are aimed at protecting the health and safety of all Texans. During this time, thousands of people from all over the state – and from all different kinds of professions – pay a visit to the Capitol to meet with their elected officials. These meetings often involve conversations that allow our representatives to hear more about constituents’ concerns and the issues that matter to them.

As a member of Texans Standing Tall’s (TST) Youth Leadership Council (YLC), I’ve had the great opportunity to attend TST’s Advocacy Day on more than one occasion. The experience was so inspiring that afterwards, I returned to my hometown of Anthony, motivated to get my state representative to visit my high school. My classmates and I wrote letters to his office and a few weeks later, he came to speak at our school. I was and still am very grateful for that opportunity.

Now, as a YLC alum and TST intern, I’m once again excited to participate in Advocacy Day. On February 19, 2019, coalition members of all ages and from all areas of the state will come together in Austin to receive information and training on important issues related to youth alcohol, tobacco, and other drug use. Attendees will then have the chance to meet with their representatives to talk about youth substance use prevention and advocate for positive change in their local communities.

Attending TST’s Advocacy Day is one of the most important things you can do as a supporter of Texans Standing Tall and as an advocate for safe, drug-free communities in Texas. The morning training sessions prepare you to speak with your representatives about the most pressing alcohol and tobacco issues our communities face; the afternoon visits at the Capitol give you face-to-face time with lawmakers and their staff members. In between the training and the office visits, you have the chance to explore the Capitol, attend committee hearings, and learn more about the law-making process in Texas.

While anyone can visit the Capitol on their own, Advocacy Day sets you up with the proper tools and resources you need for successful visits with your elected officials. I believe the training and group dynamic of TST’s Advocacy Day are unique – I’m so glad to know I don’t have to go it alone.

So, if you haven’t registered for Advocacy Day already, do it today! Don’t miss the chance to join a dedicated group of prevention advocates at the Capitol on Tuesday, February 19, 2019. We look forward to seeing you there!

 

 

 

A Look Ahead: The 86th Legislature

On January 8, 2019, Texas lawmakers will gather in Austin for the 86th Legislature – a 140-day session designed to pass our state’s budget for the coming 2020-2021 biennnium, as well as hundreds (or possibly thousands) of new laws.

Here at Texans Standing Tall, we’ll be tracking legislation that relates to our mission: to make our communities safer, healthier, and drug-free for Texas youth. As we do every legislative session, we’ll focus on policies that most directly connect to our primary goal of preventing drug use among youth. In this role, we’ll specifically be monitoring:

  1. Powdered Alcohol, or Palcohol. This product, alcohol in powdered form, is appealing to youth because the kool-aid-like packaging makes it easy to conceal.  Nearly 40 states have already banned powdered alcohol, and the American Medical Association (AMA) announced that it supports state and federal laws banning it in the United States because the product could “cause serious harm to minors.” We’ll be working to ensure powdered alcohol does not make it onto shelves in Texas
  2. Alcohol Excise Taxes. Increasing alcohol excise taxes saves lives and raises money for the state. Excise tax funds are a significant source of revenue for governments and an area of opportunity for those facing budget deficits. In Texas, alcohol excise taxes have not been raised since 1984. Yet increasing our alcohol excise tax by as little as a dime a drink would save 402 lives, prevent more than 27,000 youth from binge drinking alcohol, and generate $708 million for Texas every year.
  3. Raising the Legal Purchase Age of Tobacco to 21. Across the country, numerous cities and two states (Hawaii and California) have enacted policies that raise the legal minimum age for sale of all tobacco and nicotine products from 18 to 21. According to conservative estimates, if raising the tobacco sale age to 21 was adopted throughout the U.S., it would prevent 4.2 million years of life lost to smoking in youth alive today. You can learn more from our friends over at texas21.org.
  4. Tobacco Prevention and Control Funding. As it stands, Texas spends only 3.9% of the $268 million the CDC recommends on tobacco prevention. Currently, the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) funds 6 counties in the state to implement comprehensive, community-based tobacco prevention and control. As a result, these Tobacco Prevention and Control Coalitions (TPCCs) have been able to create change by mobilizing local citizens to help pass smoke-free ordinances in their communities, educating youth on the harms of smoking, and helping current smokers quit through education on and referrals to the Quitline. At TST, we’ve worked with numerous cities and counties on their efforts to make their cities smoke free; in the Rio Grande Valley alone, more than a dozen cities are now smoke free. However, statewide funding is imperative to make sure TPCCs can continue their work to prevent young people from smoking, help current smokers quit, and create smoke-free air for all Texans.
  5. Efforts to legalize marijuana. As policies regarding medical and recreational marijuana use change throughout the country – and possibly in our state – we’ll be following the issue in order to address various public health and safety concerns that may arise.

If you are interested in advocating for these issues and more, join us for our Advocacy Day in Austin on February 19th. This fun and educational day brings together youth and adult prevention advocates from across the state to raise awareness on public health issues at the Texas Capitol. We hope you’ll join us – and bring a few friends! To learn more and register for the event, click here.

Prevention Advocates Convene in Austin to Meet with Lawmakers

San Antonio prevention experts, youth and TST’s Christi Koenig Brisky prepare for a day of educating lawmaker on the steps of the Texas Capitol.

­­Texans Standing Tall, along with several coalitions, individuals, and youth from across the state, went to the Texas Capitol on Feb. 28 to educate lawmakers on the importance of prevention. Approximately 70 alcohol and tobacco prevention specialists attended Texans Standing Tall’s Advocacy Day to inform their representatives on the risks associated with powdered alcohol, the public health and safety benefits of raising the alcohol excise tax, the public health benefits of raising the legal purchase age of tobacco to 21, and the critical need for tobacco prevention and control funding.

The day opened with Marjorie Clifton, with Arrow, a media consulting firm, expanding Advocacy Day participants’ knowledge on the notable outcomes from TST’s 2017 Excise Tax Survey, which was conducted by research firm Baselice & Associates. According to the survey, 65% of registered voters support a dime a drink increase, especially when the revenue generated goes to public safety and education. Increasing the alcohol excise tax by a dime a drink would generate an additional $708 million in revenue every year. By current law, 25% of alcohol excise taxes generated is automatically designated for public education; the remainder of the money could be used to fund public health and safety efforts, as well as other issues that Texans are passionate about. Raising alcohol excise taxes is also the single biggest step we can take to prevent underage alcohol use and abuse – a dime a drink would save 402 lives annually.

Advocacy Day participants also learned about Texas lawmakers’ efforts to expand the definition of alcohol to include powdered alcohol, which has a texture similar to Tang or Kool-Aid and can be added to water to make cocktails or alcoholic drinks. The expanded definition would allow the Texas Alcohol and Beverage Commission (TABC) to regulate powdered alcohol and pave the way for this dangerous substance to be sold on the market. Kitty Allen, a public health advocate from the Galveston area, spoke to Advocacy Day attendees about the dangers powdered alcohol poses to the public health and safety of our communities. Powdered alcohol comes in small, youth-friendly packages that can easily be hidden in purses and pockets, essentially making it so teenagers can carry a 30-pack in their purses and 6-packs in their pockets to school, parties, or other events. Allen attested to TST’s belief that putting powdered alcohol on the shelves is a bad mix for Texas.

Cam Scott and Kaitlyn Murphy then took over the microphone to discuss the issues Tobacco Prevention and Control Program funded coalitions are facing. Nearly 50% of tobacco funding is on the chopping block, which could result in the state’s number of new smokers trending back up. The Campaign for Drug-Free Kids reports that states where funding was cut resulted in disastrous outcomes in the quest to create a tobacco-free generation. For example, Florida experienced a massive increase in tobacco use when state funding was slashed – smoking among youth 16 and older increased by 21.2%. When the funds were restored, smoking among youth declined by 62%.

Youth Leadership Council members met with journalist Ross Ramsey from the Texas Tribune.

The duo also briefed Advocacy Day participants on the latest in tobacco prevention efforts, Tobacco21. Attendees educated lawmakers on the benefits of raising the legal purchase age of tobacco in Texas from 18 to 21. The measure has already passed in two states and multiple cities in the across the country. According to the Minimal Retail Impact of Raising Tobacco Sales Age to 21, 90% of smokers start by age 21, but the 18-20 crowd only accounts for 2.12% of tobacco sales. These are the sales that account for 9 out of every 10 new smokers. By restricting youth access to tobacco, we can significantly reduce the number of new smokers.

TST was incredibly inspired by eight of our Youth Leadership Council members, who carried out a fundraising campaign so they could join us in Austin for Advocacy Day. At the event, our youth expressed very strong feelings about the importance of preventing underage alcohol use.

“Underage drinking costs Texas $2.1 billion annually, primarily in law enforcement and health related issues, and it would be impossible to place a value on the loss of life,” YLC member Kayla Gardner said. “We took time to travel to Austin to let our lawmakers know what is going on in our communities and how important it is that they start looking at prevention as a way to protect me, my friends, and their own kids from the dangers of alcohol, tobacco and other drugs.”

All of the issues discussed at Advocacy Day are critical issues that communities need to address. The normalization of alcohol results in higher numbers of underage drinkers, traffic deaths, homicides, suicides, and sexual assaults. The normalization of alcohol and pressure from a single business kept lawmakers from banning powdered alcohol—something that more than 30 states have already done—and allowed them to put industry interests ahead of the lives of our youth. On the tobacco front, budget restraints could result in lawmakers cutting funding to tobacco programs that save countless lives and decrease tobacco-related cancer risks.

It is up to us to act on behalf on future of generations. Advocacy Day was a strong show of support from those who are passionate about reducing the negative impact alcohol and tobacco have on the health and safety of our youth. Decide to ACT today and keep the momentum going! Register to attend TST’s Statewide Summit on May 1-2 so you can be prepared for the next obstacle in protecting today’s youth.