Support for Tougher Liquor Laws Rises When Booze, Crime Linked

News coverage of alcohol’s role in violent crime and fatal accidents may persuade the public to give stronger support to alcohol-control laws, new research suggests.

It is estimated that drinking is involved in nearly one-third of deaths from accidents and violent crime. Most news reports of such cases, however, make no mention of alcohol, according to the authors of the study, published in the March issue of theJournal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs.

“People have some awareness of the social cost that alcohol can have,” study author Michael D. Slater, of Ohio State University, in Columbus, said in a journal news release. “But only a small fraction of news stories on violent crime and nonmotor-vehicle accidents acknowledge the contributing role of alcohol.”

This means that many people don’t realize how often alcohol plays a role in violence and accidents that don’t occur on the roads. This lack of awareness may dampen public support for alcohol-control laws such as strict enforcement of underage drinking rules or bans on serving alcohol to drunk customers, Slater said.

In the study, Slater and his colleagues surveyed 789 adults and found that they were more likely to support alcohol-control laws after they read media stories about violent crime, vehicle crashes and other accidents involving alcohol.

“I think this buttresses the idea that media coverage does matter,” Slater said. “Alcohol, as a public-health issue, is not as front and center as it might be if there were more news coverage.”

In areas that already have alcohol-control laws, public support is still important because local resources are needed to enforce those laws, he noted. Local authorities should mention any role of alcohol when giving details about crimes and accidents to the media, Slater added.

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