Friday, February 9, 2024

Where are the Crusades to Ban Alcohol, Marijuana & Caffeine – For the Children?


The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) just introduced a program to discourage underage drinking, aimed specifically at middle schoolers (here). It’s called “Too Soon = Too Dangerous.”  The chart at left, based on data from the government’s Monitoring the Future Survey (MTFS), shows that attention to early substance abuse is timely.

There’s long been a broad crusade to prohibit all tobacco and nicotine products. Local and state governments are banning vaping and e-cigarette flavors (examples here, here and here), and the FDA has rejected thousands of flavored products that were already on the market (resulting in a todal wave of illicit products).

In contrast, 6% of eighth graders say they consume alcohol.  Of course, all alcoholic drinks are flavored. 

Where is the crusade against alcohol, which is inarguably much more dangerous than nicotine?  According to the CDC, “Underage drinking is a significant public health problem in the U.S.  Excessive drinking is responsible for more than 3,900 deaths and 225,000 years of potential life lost among people under age 21 each year.”  The same potential danger exists with marijuana, which is also consumed by eighth graders. 

Like alcohol and marijuana, nicotine is addictive, but no teenagers have died from using it.  Nicotine is more like caffeine, which is also represented in the chart by the 14% of eighth graders who currently consume energy drinks or shots.  Some health professionals (here, here, here, here and here) and federal agencies (here) have expressed concern, and there is at least one study claiming, “Teens who drink high-caffeine energy beverages such as Red Bull or Monster may be more likely to use alcohol, drugs and cigarettes.”  There is even a report of “a 16-year-old [who] tragically lost his life after consuming an energy drink, a soda and a latte — drinks routinely consumed by and often intensively marketed to youths — all within a few hours.”

Where is the crusade to ban energy drinks and shots?  Tobacco harm reduction advocates will be interested to know that Senators Richard Durbin (D-IL), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Edward Markey (D-MA) have agitated about the marketing and advertising of these products, but no one is talking about banning them.

Let me remind you about the stakes here.  While nearly half-a-million American smokers needlessly die each year because they are unable or unwilling to quit nicotine and tobacco, there is a crusade, mostly in the name of protecting children, to ban effective and vastly safer tobacco substitutes.  In contrast, there is no organized movement to ban far more dangerous alcohol and marijuana, nor addictive caffeine, all of which are frequently consumed by American adolescents.    


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