Responding to media reports that senior staff at the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) are considering a plan to relax the existing ban on alcohol advertising on the MBTA as a source of revenue, Senator Jason Lewis submitted a letter to the MBTA Fiscal Management Control Board strongly urging them to retain the full prohibition on advertising of alcoholic beverages throughout the MBTA system.
In his letter to the MBTA Fiscal Management Control Board, Senator Lewis emphasized the public health effects of excessive and irresponsible consumption of alcohol, from the impacts of prenatal alcohol exposure to the variety of liver, pancreatic, and many other diseases. Further, Senator Lewis highlighted the $5.6 billion in related costs to Massachusetts caused by excessive and irresponsible consumption in 2010 alone. Senator Lewis also stressed the susceptibility to advertising of young people, noting that the American Academy of Pediatrics made clear that youth in markets with greater alcohol advertising expenditures drank more alcohol.
In the letter, Senator Lewis warned, “Alcohol remains easily accessible and attractive to youth, who are the most susceptible to alcohol use disorder and the long-term consequences of addiction. It is particularly unfortunate that some participants in the alcohol industry seek profits at the expense of public health by developing and marketing products that are especially appealing to our youth. The Authority ought not participate with the industry in selling these products if there is any chance youth will view them and be attracted to the products these advertisements sell.”
Senator Lewis is in his third year serving as the Senate Chair of the Massachusetts legislature’s Joint Committee on Public Health.
The full text of the letter Senator Lewis submitted to the MBTA Fiscal Management Control Board is below:
Dear Members of the Board,
I strongly urge the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority to retain the prohibition on the advertisement of alcoholic beverages on trains and throughout the MBTA system.
Although most people consume alcohol responsibly, the harmful health, safety, and economic consequences of excessive or irresponsible consumption are numerous, including:
• More than 1,500 lives lost annually in Massachusetts;
• Prenatal alcohol exposure is the leading preventable cause of birth defects and intellectual and neurodevelopmental disabilities;
• Associated with liver and pancreatic diseases, hypertension, reproductive system disorders, trauma, stroke, fetal alcohol syndrome, and cancers of the oral cavity, esophagus, larynx, pharynx, liver, colon, and rectum;
• Underage alcohol use is a major risk factor for addiction – most abusers of alcohol begin using in adolescence, while the brain is still in development. (Like other addictive drugs, alcohol use in adolescence stunts the development of the frontal cortex, the brain region that directs “adult” responsibilities like delay of reward, extended reasoning, and impulse control);
• One third of driving fatalities are linked to drunk driving;
• Significant risk factor in partner violence; and,
• Cost Massachusetts more than $5.6 billion in 2010, including costs associated with health care, lost workplace productivity, criminal justice expenses, and motor vehicle crashes.
Moreover, it is clear that youth are particularly susceptible to advertising. The American Academy of Pediatrics has surveyed the academic literature on youth and marketing, and observed that:
• Young children – younger than 8 years – are cognitively and psychologically defenseless against advertising;
• Adolescent drinkers are more likely to have been exposed to alcohol advertising;
• Children begin making decisions about alcohol at an early age…exposure to beer commercials represents a significant risk factor;
• Minority children may be at particular risk of exposure to alcohol advertisements;
• Youth in markets with greater alcohol advertising expenditures drank more; and,
• There is sound commonsense basis for believing that making alcohol use attractive to young people increases the likelihood that they will become alcohol consumers as young people.
Although we may not like to confront this reality, alcohol is an addictive drug capable of causing death, disability, and great suffering. Alcohol remains easily accessible and attractive to youth, who are the most susceptible to alcohol use disorder and the long-term consequences of addiction. It is particularly unfortunate that some participants in the alcohol industry seek profits at the expense of public health by developing and marketing products that are especially appealing to our youth. The Authority ought not participate with the industry in selling these products if there is any chance youth will view them and be attracted to the products these advertisements sell.
I urge the Authority to carefully consider the public health consequences and the messages sent by a public agency when alcoholic beverages are advertised in public places. Further, I encourage the board to consult with public health and substance use disorder experts if there are any questions about the potential impacts alcohol can have on youth, as well as the persuasive power of advertisements on youth.
Thank you for your time and consideration.
Jason M. Lewis
Co-Chair, Joint Committee on Public Health