While COVID-19 has brought much of the U.S. to a standstill, the alcohol problems facing our state and nation persist. Prevention must and will find ways to persevere, because we are #TeamKentucky and #TeamPrevention. Below are eight concerns related four primary issues in regards to Alcohol and COVID-19 in Kentucky. Download 2020 Alcohol and COVID19 – What Can Prevention Do? to view the potential next steps for each concern.
ISSUE A: 55% INCREASE IN ALCOHOL SALES – According Neilson data, with the social distancing restrictions, U.S. alcohol sales increased 55% in late March. Other nations are also reporting recent spikes in alcohol sales. In Australia, coronavirus-themed alcohol marketing, including advertising “survival kits” and “isolation six-packs,” has sparked calls for regulators to ban making references to depression and isolation in marketing material.
CONCERN 1: While the increase in sales could represent stockpiling, experts warn it also signals the potential for alcohol abuse.
CONCERN 2: An additional concern is increased alcohol sales = more alcohol in the home = greater potential for in-home access to youth with/ without their parents knowledge.
CONCERN 3: Age verification challenges while consumers are wearing a mask during COVID-19 is a concern. In Maine, retailers have asked customers to remove their mask when purchasing alcohol for age verification to avoid sales to underage buyers.
ISSUE B: SOCIAL NORMS, IMPAIRED DRIVING & OPEN CONTAINERS - Forty states, includes KY, prohibit the consumption and possession of open containers of alcohol while in a motor vehicle. However, the temporary Governor’s Executive Order makes an exception to this law by allowing restaurants to offer to-go alcoholic drinks with lids. According to Neilson data, a growing number of consumers claim to be ordering alcohol with their takeout from restaurants (14% of U.S. consumers in the week ended April 25, up from 9% in the previous two weeks).
CONCERN 4: Last week marked the 32nd anniversary of the Carrollton KY Bus Crash, the deadliest drunk driving crash in U.S. history. Since this tragic event, impaired driving prevention and social norms including the public’s view towards impaired driving have came a long way. I am concerned this temporary COVID-19 Executive Order allowing alcohol curbside pickup in a container with a lid might have some long-term undesirable impacts on impaired driving by normalizing behaviors like a operating a motor vehicle with an open container of alcohol.
CONCERN 5: Another valid potential concern is for increased access to youth through the restaurant alcohol curbside pickup and delivery allowed during COVID. On-premise establishments like restaurants are not accustomed to alcohol service in these non-traditional ways, and I am concerned while trying to social distance and minimize interaction may be less likely to verify age through a physical ID check.
ISSUE C: DIRECT-TO-CONSUMER DELIVERY & ADULT EXCESSIVE ALCOHOL USE – Some states and nations, such as Pennsylvania and Yucatan state government in Mexico, followed global advice from the WHO, whose regional office for Europe recommended governments restrict access to alcohol during COVID-19 adding that alcohol consumption during an emergency can exacerbate health vulnerabilities, risk-taking behavior, mental health issues and violence. In KY, as many struggle to cope with additional stress and social isolation, options available to consumers to access alcohol have expanded during the pandemic.
NEW KY LAWS GO INTO EFFECT JULY 15, 2020 - Alcohol: House Bill 415 will allow distillers, wineries and breweries to ship directly to consumers, in and out of Kentucky, once certain regulations are in place. The bill imposes shipping limits of 10 liters of distilled spirits, 10 cases of wine and 10 cases of malt beverages per month. Packages of alcohol will have to be clearly labeled and be signed for by someone 21 or older. HB 415 will also prohibit shipping to dry territories, communities where local laws prohibit alcohol sales.
CONCERN 6: I am concerned direct-to-consumer alcohol shipment eases alcohol accessibility not only to minors, but also to adults potentially already struggling with addiction and excessive alcohol use – increasing alcohol accessibility during a pandemic further complicates this situation.
ISSUE D: DIRECT-TO-CONSUMER DELIVERY/SHIPMENT & ACCESS TO MINORS – Traditional alcohol compliance check protocol may not work with e-commerce and out-of-state sales. As result, alcohol enforcement will need to adapt and implement procedures to ensure online retailers have employed a sufficient age verification system and to ensure delivery carriers are obtaining the required adult signature when delivering packages containing alcohol. Governor Beshear has said there is a state budget shortfall due to COVID-19 which could a significant impact on state government into next year, including on education and public safety.
CONCERN 7: Home delivery, according to SAMHSA, increases the potential for minors to access alcohol.
- Research suggests delivery persons have less incentive to verify age during delivery when they are away from the licensed establishment, and cannot be watched by a surveillance camera, store management or other customers. One study found alcohol delivery services are used more by adult male problem drinkers than those without a history of alcohol problems. Another study reported delivery services are used more by under-21 male frequent, heavy drinkers.
CONCERN 8: The expansion of home alcohol shipment creates a new challenge for local and state law enforcement to enforce existing alcohol laws and ensure compliance against retail sales to minors under-21.
- In 2012, a study published in JAMA evaluated online alcohol sales to minors. Results showed of the 100 orders placed by underage purchasers, 45% were successfully received. The study revealed the delivery age verification was inconsistently used, and when attempted, failed about half the time.