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Beer sales as the rooster crows? How does this help Wisconsin?

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Dr. Michael M. Miller
December 14, 2011

In case you missed it, last week Gov. Walker signed AB 63 into law. It allows beer and liquor sales to start at 6 a.m. We already allow sales for 16 hours a day in our state; it seems to me that provides plenty of access to alcohol.


Wisconsin is the No. 1 binge drinking state in the country, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That also was confirmed by the 2011 America’s Health Rankings published last week by the United Health Foundation. Wisconsin is also third in the nation in total alcohol consumption, which is estimated to have caused almost 4,000 alcohol-related injuries in 2009 alone, with almost 250 alcohol-related deaths on top of that.


Increased access to alcohol perpetuates risky and problem drinking in our communities. This includes increased OWIs, risky sexual behaviors and violence.


There is no doubt that access—to pills, to booze, to pot—is a significant factor in rates of use, in early onset of use by kids, and therefore in the health and other consequences that are directly correlated with total use.


More time to buy alcohol is not the answer to Wisconsin improving its rankings in public health measures of alcohol-related harms. In fact, things such as lower taxes, greater number of retail outlets, longer hours of sales in retail settings and lower penalties for harmful use all contributed to increases in overall use and unhealthy use such as binge-drinking. It is sad that Wisconsin already spends $935 million annually in medical costs alone directly related to alcohol misuse and addiction and drunken driving.


Fortunately, we can put this genie back in the bottle by taking action locally. Local governments have the power to retain their current alcohol sales hours, starting at 8 a.m. or later in some cases. We strongly urge that they do so.


The “environment of alcohol” in the Badger State matters, as it shows our kids what community leaders and other adults view as acceptable and what isn’t. The Legislature and governor are sending the wrong message—we don’t need to be able to buy our booze before breakfast.


Even if the state (in its lack of wisdom) has given you the permission, don’t allow your own community to expand alcohol access in this way. If you don’t have a problem with alcohol and you’re planning a social outing, you can surely plan ahead and purchase your wine, beer and liquor supplies the day before!


This isn’t a matter of “consumer convenience” or making it “easier for small businesspeople to enhance their sales.” This is a matter of public health and common sense.


For more information, contact Health First Wisconsin (healthfirstwi.org), or the Wisconsin Alcohol Policy Project at the UW Law School (law.wisc.edu/wapp).


Dr. Michael M. Miller is medical director of Herrington Recovery Center, Rogers Memorial Hospital, Oconomowoc; past president of the American Society of Addiction Medicine; director of the American Board of Addiction Medicine; and associate clinical professor, UW School of Medicine and Public Health. Write to him at Rogers Memorial Hospital, 34700 Valley Road, Oconomowoc, WI 53066.

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