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Open Access Research

Underage alcohol policies across 50 California cities: an assessment of best practices

Sue Thomas1*, Mallie J Paschall2, Joel W Grube2, Carol Cannon1 and Ryan Treffers1

Author Affiliations

1 Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation, P.O. Box 7042, Santa Cruz, CA, 95061, USA

2 Prevention Research Center, 1995 University Ave, Suite 450, Berkeley, CA, 94704, USA

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Substance Abuse Treatment, Prevention, and Policy 2012, 7:26  doi:10.1186/1747-597X-7-26

Published: 26 June 2012

Abstract

Background

We pursue two primary goals in this article: (1) to test a methodology and develop a dataset on U.S. local-level alcohol policy ordinances, and (2) to evaluate the presence, comprehensiveness, and stringency of eight local alcohol policies in 50 diverse California cities in relationship to recommended best practices in both public health literature and governmental recommendations to reduce underage drinking.

Methods

Following best practice recommendations from a wide array of authoritative sources, we selected eight local alcohol policy topics (e.g., conditional use permits, responsible beverage service training, social host ordinances, window/billboard advertising ordinances), and determined the presence or absence as well as the stringency (restrictiveness) and comprehensiveness (number of provisions) of each ordinance in each of the 50 cities in 2009. Following the alcohol policy literature, we created scores for each city on each type of ordinance and its associated components. We used these data to evaluate the extent to which recommendations for best practices to reduce underage alcohol use are being followed.

Results

(1) Compiling datasets of local-level alcohol policy laws and their comprehensiveness and stringency is achievable, even absent comprehensive, on-line, or other legal research tools. (2) We find that, with some exceptions, most of the 50 cities do not have high scores for presence, comprehensiveness, or stringency across the eight key policies. Critical policies such as responsible beverage service and deemed approved ordinances are uncommon, and, when present, they are generally neither comprehensive nor stringent. Even within policies that have higher adoption rates, central elements are missing across many or most cities’ ordinances.

Conclusion

This study demonstrates the viability of original legal data collection in the U.S. pertaining to local ordinances and of creating quantitative scores for each policy type to reflect comprehensiveness and stringency. Analysis of the resulting dataset reveals that, although the 50 cities have taken important steps to improve public health with regard to underage alcohol use and abuse, there is a great deal more that needs to be done to bring these cities into compliance with best practice recommendations.

Keywords:
Alcohol policy; Alcohol laws; Alcohol deterrents; Youth drinking; Public policy; Health policy