A National Campaign for Alcohol Health Warning Signs
Sample Op-Ed Piece
"A Goldmine in Alcohol Risk Prevention . . . for Pennies"
Saving a life or preventing mental retardation in a newborn could be as simple and cheap as posting a ten-cent sign wherever alcohol is sold and served. Seventeen states have already taken that precaution by requiring or promoting signs warning consumers about alcohol-related health and safety risks. Virginia should do the same. Point-of-purchase warning signs provide communities an added tool to help prevent fetal alcohol syndrome, drunk driving, and other high-risk behaviors associated with alcohol.
Fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) is the nation's leading preventable cause of birth defects. Its symptoms include mental retardation, abnormal facial features, central nervous system disorders, behavioral problems and growth deficiencies. Despite heightened awareness that abstaining from alcohol during pregnancy prevents FAS, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that about a fifth of women continue drinking after they learn they are pregnant. According to the CDC, the rate of babies born with FAS has grown more than sixfold, from 1 per 10,000 births in 1979 to 6.7 per 10,000 births in 1993.
Although drunk driving has declined over the past decade, the National Transportation Safety Board reported that alcohol-related traffic crashes killed 17,274 people in 1995, a four percent increase over 1994. Alcohol-related deaths constituted 41 percent of all highway mortality in 1995. More than one-third of drivers ages 16-20 and more than half of drivers ages 21-24 killed in motor vehicle crashes had alcohol in their systems.
Each year, over 100,000 Americans die from alcohol-related causes. Approximately 18 million American adults are problem drinkers. Yet, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse's National Survey Results on Drug Use from the Monitoring the Future Study, 1975-1994, close to one-third of high school seniors do not see a great risk in drinking four or five drinks every day.
Clearly, we need to take action to increase awareness of alcohol-related health and safety risks. Point-of-purchase warning signs do just that, providing consumers with critical information when they need it -- as they consider buying an alcoholic beverage. For this reason, they have been endorsed by national organizations including the American Medical Association, the American Public Health Association, the National Association of State Alcohol and Drug Abuse Directors, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the Arc, the Center for Science in the Public Interest, and the March of Dimes.
Point-of-purchase warning messages can reach 95% of consumers with critical information about alcohol-related health and safety risks and complement on-going educational and awareness campaigns. Posters laminated to last upwards of ten years at a unit cost of a little more than a dollar can save treatment costs of FAS which total some $750,000 per child from birth to age 18. The signs give consumers facts that counter $2 billion worth of "education" put out by the alcoholic-beverage industry each year to tell us how glamorous and appealing drinking is.
Virginians for Healthy Kids, a coalition of parents, health care professionals, teachers, and law enforcement officials, has launched a campaign for warning sign legislation in our state. The signs would advise of the dangers associated with drinking during pregnancy, drinking before driving or operating machinery, and mixing alcohol with other drugs. If they help to prevent even a fraction of the deaths, injuries, and birth defects caused by the misuse of alcohol each year, warning signs will improve the health of Virginia's citizens and its state coffers.