New liquor law is a win for all Alaskans

Last week, a report was released showing that alcohol-related deaths have increased by more than 25% in the United States and 31% in Alaska. Each year, alcohol abuse costs Alaska $2.4 billion, or $3,272 per person per year, whether or not they drink alcohol. Alaskans are dying at a rate more than twice the national average, with 9 of the 10 most common causes of death associated with alcohol and substance abuse.

However, this is not an individual problem; alcohol is linked to many of our societal problems. From 2004 to 2016, alcohol-related emergency room visits increased by 50%, far more than any other type of visit during this period. Additionally, alcohol was the leading cause of emergency room visits in 2020 for 18-64 year olds. Studies show nationwide that alcohol is a common factor in sexual assaults and that sexual assaults are more likely to occur in places where alcohol is consumed. Alaska has the highest rate of sexual assault in the nation.

With these types of related harms, it is clear that alcohol cannot be treated like the caffeine in coffee or the cholesterol in eggs. Alcohol is a different product that requires additional laws and policies to ensure people’s health and safety. Science clearly shows that strengthening liquor laws will help us achieve our common goal of a healthier Alaska. Senate Bill 9, or SB 9, is full of evidence-based policies that will do just that.

The Title 4 Overhaul Project, modernizing Alaska’s confusing and outdated liquor laws, began in 2012. This comprehensive rewrite will replace a piecemeal approach of making minor changes over the years, trying to make ensure that state policy reflects today’s needs and practices. Senate Bill 9, the latest integration of Title 4 reform, will benefit consumers, businesses, law enforcement and the general public. This bill is needed to address the many issues surrounding alcohol, which is unlike any other product in our society.

The bill passed the Senate unanimously, as for the first time the bill is supported by the liquor and hospitality industries, the Brewers Guild of Alaska, retail stores retail, municipalities and public health and public safety communities. SB 9 is the result of thousands of hours of effort by more than 120 stakeholders. It is carefully designed to bring everyone to the table.

SB 9 includes essential public health measures, such as mandatory keg registration, regulation of internet sales, and other tools for law enforcement to limit excessive service or serving minors, which which will reduce alcohol consumption among minors. More importantly, it deliberately altered population boundaries, which is one of the most effective strategies for reducing excessive alcohol consumption and its related harms, particularly violent crime. This will ensure that there is no overcrowding of bars and other alcohol outlets while allowing for flexibility and responsible business growth.

SB 9 is packed with positive, research-based policy changes that will address current gaps and disparities and result in a safer and healthier environment. This is a victory for all Alaskans.

This commentary was co-authored by members of the Recover Alaska Operations Council: Andrew Aquino, University of Alaska Fairbanks; Michelle Baker, Southcentral Foundation; Katie Baldwin-Johnson, Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority; Farina Brown, Alaska State Department of Health and Human Services; Deborah Vo, Rasmuson Foundation; Tiffany Hall, ex officio member of Recover Alaska; André Rosay, University of Alaska Anchorage; Lance Johnson, Norton Sound Health Corp.; Philip Licht, Free Alaska; Renee Rafferty, Providence Health and Services Alaska; Elizabeth Ripley, Mat-Su Health Foundation; and Tina Woods, Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska. Recover Alaska is a multi-sectoral action group working to reduce excessive alcohol consumption and its harms statewide. His vision is that Alaskans live free from the harms of alcohol abuse, so that we are all empowered to reach our full potential.

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