A National Campaign for Alcohol Health Warning Signs
Before a Legislative Body
My name is Mary Smith, and I represent Virginians for Healthy Kids, a citizens' action group that is concerned about alcohol problems among young people, including young women of child-bearing age. I have three main points to make today: First, alcohol has a devastating impact on the health and safety of young people in our community. Second, education is critical to preventing future alcohol-related tragedies and to balancing the message that young people get about alcohol from advertisements, which glamorize drinking without regard for its consequences. Finally, warning posters where alcoholic beverages are sold represent a cost-effective means of providing young people (and all consumers) with this necessary health information.
In our country, we have seen a number of encouraging trends in recent years. Adults are drinking less, and drunk driving has shown a steady decline. Despite this good news, alcohol still ranks as the number-one addicting drug, the number-one cause of preventable birth defects, and the number-one killer of young people ages 16-24. Excessive alcohol consumption is America's costliest drug problem.
Although alcohol is killing our young people, many do not recognize the threat. Despite health education in schools and public service announcements on television, only 28% of high school seniors perceive a great health risk in drinking every day. Knowledge of the dangers of drinking during pregnancy is similarly lacking. Since more than a third of all pregnant women do not see a doctor during the first trimester of pregnancy, we need to find some way to provide these women with this critical information.
[Insert personal or other alcohol-related tragedy.] At the hospital where I work, I witness the tragic consequences of alcohol abuse first-hand. Every expectant parent prays for a healthy child. When parents learn that their baby suffers from Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, their devastation is all the greater because their child's suffering could have been prevented. We are here today to ask you to help spare other parents from this overwhelming guilt and frustration.
We are asking you to support an ordinance requiring the posting of alcohol health warning signs wherever alcoholic beverages are sold. At these points-of-sale, the signs will reach 95% of the consumers in this community and will work continuously to deliver an important health message.
The alcohol industry spends about $2 billion each year promoting drinking as a glamorous, fun part of a healthy, successful life. Former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop's December 1988 Workshop on Drunk Driving reported that advertising is one major source of learning about alcohol use, particularly for youth. Unfortunately, these advertisements provide no information about the consequences of alcohol use. It is left to the community to balance this constant onslaught of images with facts about alcohol-related health risks.
Many states and localities now require point-of-sale warning signs, and several small studies indicate that the posters boost knowledge of alcohol risks. The signs provide an effective and low-cost means of educating the public. Posters that cost a little more than a dollar can play a key role in preventing fetal alcohol syndrome, which leads to treatment costs of about $750,000 per child from birth to age 18.
Alcohol warning signs complement the federally required Surgeon General's warnings on alcoholic-beverage containers, which are barely noticeable or difficult to read on many containers. They further ongoing alcohol-education programs and can provide warnings specially tailored to the needs of our community. The signs proposed in this legislation go beyond the federal warning label by providing information about several key hazards of alcohol consumption: birth defects; addiction; drinking when driving or operating machinery; combination of alcohol and other drugs; and increased risk of serious diseases associated with excessive use.
Point-of-sale health and safety signs are endorsed by many 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.
In our community, this legislation has the support of police officers, parents, teachers, and health professionals. Those individuals all recognize that warning posters can educate consumers, young people, drinkers, and their friends and families at little expense. By requiring warning signs, this Council has the opportunity to save lives, avert accidents, and protect the health and well-being of our young people and other at-risk populations.
Thank you for the opportunity to testify today. I'd be happy to answer any questions that you may have.