In 1984, five years before I was born at Beth Israel Hospital, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts passed regulations prohibiting happy hour. In 1984 a lot was different. The most successful film was Beverly Hills Cop. Michael Jordan was a rookie with the Bulls and the drinking age in Massachusetts was 20. The ban came in response to some tragic high profile accidents. Public opinion is most vulnerable after tragic times, but unfortunately, the excess of empathy during these times can lead to a lack of sanity. I would postulate that the most exact solutions to a society’s problems are to be found if you get rid of the dust in these moments.
To prevent alcohol-related deaths we need to consider a number of factors.
Since the ban came into force, access to alternative modes of transport – namely the expansion of the MBTA and the advent of ridesharing services – has been in stark contrast to the 1980s. Public opinion about drunk driving has changed dramatically, and the state is cracking down on the practice through laws like the Melanie’s Law of 2005.
There is also little evidence that the happy hour ban had a major impact on saving lives. In 1984 there were 411 alcohol-related road deaths in Massachusetts. For the next four years, the annual death rate ranged from 377 to 408. The death toll did not drop below 200 until 1995. Trends in Massachusetts mirror those of the country, which saw a sharp decline in death rates in the early 1990s.
My name is Nick Silveira. I am a 31 year old resident of Dorchester and I recently tabled a poll with the Attorney General to restore happy hour to Massachusetts. Lifting the ban would give a bar industry paralyzed by the pandemic a necessary shot in the arm and help renew the sense of community and social freedom among us all. But even putting these benefits aside, it is perfectly clear that the well-intentioned ban was misguided, and if the underlying goal is to curb drinking under the influence, efforts will be much more focused on others.
David H. Jernigan
Professor of Health Law, Policy and Management at the Boston University School of Public Health; has been working on alcohol policy issues for 35 years.
Jackie Ricciardi / Boston University Photography
Massachusetts should be a safe and healthy place for everyone; A return to dangerous beverage promotions like “Happy Hours” would lead us in the opposite direction.
Alcohol consumption is tightly regulated as it causes around 100,000 deaths a year nationwide. A maximum of 10 percent of these deaths can be attributed to drunk driving, as alcohol consumption also affects homicides, suicides, poisoning, sexual assault, sexually transmitted diseases, poor pregnancy outcomes, and chronic diseases such as heart disease, liver disease, and cancer. Alcohol problems cost Massachusetts $ 5.1 billion in 2010, the most recent year for which it is estimated.
I served on the 2018 National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine panel of experts examining the country’s sluggish progress in preventing drunk-driving deaths. Our report found that 10,000 people still die of drunk driving each year and that alcohol price campaigns are linked to increased overconsumption, especially among young drinkers.
Uber and Lyft make no difference in reducing drunk driving: A 2020 study found that the introduction of Uber increased binge drinking in U.S. cities by 3.7 percent, while the effects on drinking and driving were statistically insignificant was. Another 2020 study tested the association between the availability of Uber and alcohol-related road deaths in 100 U.S. cities and found no association either.
Massachusetts is in the top 10 states for binge drinking: Almost one in five adults reported being a binge drinker in 2019, based on my analysis of federal data. Despite the effects of the pandemic, our state had more than 350,000 students at public colleges and universities in the period 2020-2021. College students consume even more alcohol in response to price promotions. A 2009 study found that all-you-can-drink promotions were significantly linked to guest poisoning. (cq) A 2014 study found that many young adults, including women and under the age of 21, drink more in response to happy hour specials.
These changes in their alcohol consumption were about twice as likely to drive them drunk or get into an argument. College students – or anyone – getting into a brawl or car while drunk is everyone at risk.
Bars and restaurants need help coming back from the pandemic, but that help shouldn’t come at the expense of the health and safety of everyone else in Massachusetts.
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