In 2002, Congress allocated $500,000 to the Institute of Medicine (IOM) of the National Academy of Sciences to create a strategy to reduce and prevent underage drinking. Underage drinking costs the nation an estimated $53 billion annually, due in part to losses stemming from traffic fatalities and violent crime. The legislation called for a review of existing federal and state alcohol prevention programs to establish a more effective underage drinking campaign housed in the Department of Health and Human Services.
In September, 2003, the IOM released a comprehensive strategy to address underage drinking. The report, “ Reducing Underage Drinking: A Collective Responsibility,” calls for a collective effort to address the problem from many constituencies, including alcohol manufacturers and retail businesses, the entertainment industry, and parents and other adults in local communities.
The report advises state and local leaders to develop activities and programs tailored to specific circumstances of underage drinking in their communities. For instance, because youth often obtain alcohol from adults, the report recommends that states and localities should use educational and enforcement measures to boost compliance with laws that prohibit selling or providing alcohol to children and underage youth. Among the recommended steps are increasing the frequency of compliance checks, in which authorities monitor whether businesses are obeying minimum-drinking-age laws and levy fines when necessary.
The report also states that federal and state governments should help forge the commitment to curtail alcohol consumption by minors, educating adults about existing laws and the consequences of underage drinking, and provide additional financial assistance and other support to reinforce community-based prevention initiatives.
The report advises that the federal government fund and actively support the development of a national media campaign to encourage parents and other adults to take steps in their own households and neighborhoods to discourage underage drinking. Television ads for alcohol often appear during programs where the percentage of underage viewers is greater than their percentage in the overall U.S. population. The committee recommended that trade associations in the alcohol industry and individual companies strengthen their advertising codes to prohibit placement of commercial messages in venues where a large portion of the audience is underage. These groups also should establish independent, external review boards to investigate complaints about ads and enforce codes. In addition, alcohol companies, advertising firms, and commercial media should refrain from marketing practices -- such as certain product designs or promotion techniques -- that may appeal to young people, the report says.
To fund the proposed activities and to help reduce underage consumption, the report proposes that Congress and state legislatures raise excise tax rates on alcohol – particularly on beer, which studies show is the alcoholic beverage that most young people prefer. Alcohol is much cheaper today, after adjusting for inflation, than it was 30 to 40 years ago. According to the report, higher tax rates should be tied to the Consumer Price Index to keep pace with inflation. Increasing the cost of alcohol has well-documented deterrent effects on underage drinkers, the report points out.
Key findings from the report:
Key recommendations from the report:
General statistics on underage drinking:
The IOM Report was welcomed by many advocates for alcohol prevention, among them:
Copies of Reducing Underage Drinking: A Collective Responsibility are available from the National Academies Press. FACE – Truth and Clarity on Alcohol developed an executive summary of the report. The reprint booklet can be ordered at their  Web site.