The Evidence for Prohibition

by David J. Hanson, Ph. D.

Joseph Califano, head of an a neo-prohibitionist advocacy group, the Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA), wrote an article attacking any suggestion that strict alcohol prohibition is not preferable to moderation for young people, including those who are adults. 1 However, scientific evidence systematically collected for decades clearly does not support the case for prohibition for adults under the age of 21.

Among Italians, Greeks, Jews, Spaniards, Portuguese and many others around the world, most people drink daily but experience very few alcohol problems. These groups all share three major keys to success in preventing alcohol problems:

  1. The substance of alcohol is seen as rather neutral, being inherently neither a magic elixir nor a passport to maturity, success and prosperity. It’s how alcohol is used that is all-important.
  2. There are two equally acceptable choices for those legally able to drink:
    • One choice is to drink in moderation.
    • The other choice is to abstain.

    What is never acceptable for anyone of any age under any circumstance is to abuse alcohol.
  3. Young people learn about alcohol from an early age within the home by good example. These groups would all agree that it’s better to learn about alcohol in the parents’ house than in the fraternity house. 2

In the face of voluminous peer-reviewed and published research supporting these facts Mr. Califano refers to two apparently unpublished and non-peer-reviewed reports. In order to make its case that underage-drinking laws should be vigorously enforced, the Justice Department has prepared an analysis comparing a sample of European students with an older, non-comparable sample of US students. The report was prepared “In support of the OJJDP Enforcing the Underage Drinking Laws Program” in partnership with Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) and the National Liquor Law Enforcement Program. It was written “in response to a request from the ‘Leadership to Keep Children Alcohol Free. ‘” That’s one of the dubious, non-scientific report Mr. Califano uses. The other, although publicized by WHO, was actually conducted by a private interest group to make its case against alcohol use. 3

Mr. Califano also cites an unpublished report by the Center for Alcohol Marketing and Youth (CAMY). However, CAMY’s own data suggest that the advocacy group overstated the exposure of young people to alcohol ads on radio by 500 percent. 4

Joe Califano then refers to a statistic found in a report by his own group, the Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse. But it is unclear to which CASA report he refers.

Was it the CASA report on college drinking that made four startling assertions, none of which was supported by the facts, according to an investigative reporter? 5

Was it the CASA report that claimed 27 percent of women on welfare were alcohol or drug abusers, a figure the US Department of Health and Human Services revealed was over-stated by 600 percent? 6

Was it the CASA report on teens, alcohol, drugs and unprotected sex that, through ingenious but illegitimate techniques, inflated the correct statistic by 1,790 percent? 7

Or was it the CASA report that issued “a clarion call for national mobilization to curb underage drinking” and over-reported underage drinking by over 100 percent according to the federal agency that collected the data. 8

Mr. Califano also dredges up the old unproven stepping stone hypothesis and implies that preventing young people from drinking will somehow reduce later drinking problems. There is no evidence whatsoever that this is the case.

Joe Califano is not a scientist and his organization is not a scientific but rather a public policy advocacy group. This may explain his zeal in promoting prohibition. But Mr. Califano is a lawyer and therefore should realize that his “evidence” is erroneous, misleading and inadmissible.

Case Closed.

References and Readings

filed under: Prohibition

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