Discussion

Summary of the Problem and the Feasibility of Intervention:
Over-consumption of alcohol is linked to serious alcohol-related problems, including traffic crashes and fatalities, violence, injury, and alcohol-related disease. Existing research strongly suggests that laws that restrict sales to intoxicated patrons and happy hour and similar promotions can reduce alcohol-related harm if they are adequately enforced. Our research documents three major findings:

  1. Relevant laws exist in most States. Statutes prohibiting the sale of alcoholic beverages to intoxicated people are already present in nearly every State, and over one-half prohibit happy hour practices. Some States, notably Texas, have comprehensive regulations restricting serving practices likely to lead to intoxication that can serve as models for other States. Nearly every State has established penalties for violations of sales to intoxicated laws.

  2. Although the laws exist, compliance with them is low, caused at least in part by the lack of adequate enforcement and adjudication. Several factors contribute to the low priority given to these laws by State ABC agencies, including: inadequate funding and decreasing budgets, lack of public support, problems in coordinating efforts with local law enforcement agencies, and difficulties in establishing adequate evidence of violations. When agencies have implemented new enforcement programs, resources have not been available to conduct evaluations of their efficacy.

  3. Increasing the enforcement of, and compliance with, these laws (and therefore reducing alcohol-related harm) is feasible. There are innovative enforcement programs being implemented by States and localities that should be evaluated and built upon as models.
    In short, the legal and adjudicative systems for enforcing limits on over-consumption and deterring violations of these limits are already in existence. Furthermore, there are a number of programs being tested that could serve as models for enhancing enforcement.

Proposed Intervention Strategies:
Our analysis has identified the following strategies for encouraging the adoption of enforcement strategies designed to increase compliance with service to intoxicated patrons and happy hour laws, and addressing the barriers to implementation:

  • Generate public and government support for making the enforcement of these laws a priority (as the enforcement of underage drinking laws is now a national priority) by publicizing its potential for reducing alcohol-related harm.

  • Conduct studies that not only document the public health benefits but also the potential cost savings to enforcement agencies. The Linking Project in New South Wales, Australia, provides a model for such research, which resulted in widespread adoption of the program as a routine part of law enforcement activities.

  • Design interventions in support of the enforcement of sales to intoxicated laws that build upon programs already in existence that use “place of last drink” data. The Linking Project serves as a model for such interventions, introducing the use of systematic data collection and analysis, randomized selection of test and control sites, and periodic evaluation of the program’s efficacy as methods for demonstrating scientifically to the public and policy makers that targeting problem outlets is a successful strategy for reducing alcohol-related harm.

  • Combine well-publicized, targeted-enforcement campaigns targeting violations of sales to intoxicated patrons laws with education and training of licensees and their employees, and systematic testing of compliance using undercover or sting operations. The Washtenaw County, Michigan, program provides a model design for such a program.

  • Encourage the implementation of regular inspections for compliance with happy hour laws as well as the use of undercover surveillance to support these laws. This requires increased funding of these enforcement efforts, media campaigns to increase the perception of enforcement of these laws, and educational and training programs to instruct licensees about the laws.

  • Encourage private and public funding agencies and research organizations to support research to evaluate these enforcement and compliance programs. Assist States and localities with evaluation and analysis of their enforcement programs, so that the efficacy of these programs can be determined.

  • Encourage collaboration between law enforcement agencies, policy makers, and research organizations. Such partnerships will foster innovative programs that can be evaluated and replicated, developing a more detailed understanding of the relevant laws, enforcement strategies, and compliance process.