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Fewer States Uphold Commercial Host Liability Laws


A new legal review study from the Alcohol Policy Consultations and Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health found that fewer states are adhering to commercial host liability policies. Their study suggests that this declining number of states presents a public health concern because these are areas that underage or intoxicated individuals get served alcohol, and oftentimes proceed to engage in reckless and dangerous behaviors.

Commercial host liability is a policy that holds alcohol retailers responsible for any harm that directly results from illegal alcohol sales, including selling to patrons who are underage or intoxicated (Health). This study reviewed the number of states that have continued to uphold commercial host liability from 1989 to 2011 (Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health.). They found that many states have underscored the purpose and effects of these laws by enacting legislation designed to protect retailers. In between 1989 and 2011, the number of states that recognized commercial host liability for irresponsibly serving intoxicated adults without restrictions dropped from 25 to 21, while states that enacted major restrictions to this type of liability increased from 11 to 16 (Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health.).

This presents a public health concern, as the Community Preventive Services Task Force recently discovered that commercial host liability policies were effective in reducing a range of alcohol related harms, including an average 6% drop in alcohol related vehicular deaths (Health). Additionally, the review examined how many states participated in the Responsible Beverage Service (RBS); which is designed to protect both the patrons and retailers. The RBS practices include effective ID checks, staff training on signs of intoxication, and discontinuing the promotion of intoxication. While these practices could benefit all involved, the study found that only six states have adopted these methods (Health).

The lead author of this study notes how this decline in commercial host liability could present a public health concern when he notes that “the erosion of commercial host liability…is a public health failure that directly contributes to the exorbitant human and economic costs of excessive drinking,” (Parsons). It seems that the numbers would back up his statements: 80,000 deaths a year are directly related to alcohol, while excessive drinking cost about $223.5 billion in 2006 alone (Parsons). Additionally, the majority of binge drinkers who reported driving during their last binge reported drinking in an on-premises alcohol retail establishment (i.e. a bar, restaurant, club, etc.). Even more telling, half of the binge drinkers who were at these retail establishments reported being served in excess of 10 drinks before getting behind the wheel (Parsons).

Commercial host liability laws are not designed to punish establishments nor prevent them from making a profit. However, they are designed to protect the public from underage or intoxicated individuals by placing a greater amount of responsibility on establishments to make responsible serving decisions. The fact that excessive alcohol consumption is such a large public health concern should serve as a reminder that these laws serve as a helpful purpose, not punitive, and should be reinforced in more states around this country.



Sources Cited:

Health. “Fewer states holding alcohol retailers responsible for harms from illegal service.” 30 July 2013. Medical Xpress. Web. 31 July 2013.

Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health. “Reinforcing commercial host liability helps reduce excessive alcohol consumption.” 31 July 2013. Medical News Today. Web. 31 July 2013.

Parsons, Tim. “Fewer States Holding Alcohol Retailers Responsible for Harms from Illegal Service.” 30 July 2013. Web. 31 July 2013.


Written by

A native New Yorker, Bre loves the California scene and writing for Treatment4Addiction. She has been writing content for T4A for five months, and loves to learn new things, form opinions, and send them out to the world. Her interests include dance, singing, acting, talking with friends, being a daughter, and being the best big sister she can to her 16 year old brother. After attending ASU for a few months, she is interested in taking cosmetology classes and exploring her options. She looks forward to learning all she can, and doing something positive with that knowledge and experience.

Filed under: Alcohol and Drugs, Latest News · Tags: alcohol, alcohol related deaths, Alcohol retailers, Alcohol-related incidents, binge brinking, commercial host liability, Community Preventive Services, Driving under the influence, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, public health concern, Responsible Beverage Service, underage or intoxicated

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