Alcohol Control and Public Health and Safety

In examining alcohol control and public safety, it is generally best to consider more than one state at a time and more than one year’s worth of data. Data for a single state or a single year may be influenced by population size, socioeconomic status, weather or other factors dependent on that particular state or year, but independent of the alcohol controls themselves.

A 2010 study by Donald J. Boudreaux and Julia Williams examined Centers for Disease Control data for 2001 through 2005 on total alcohol-related deaths.[*] Boudreaux, an economist with George Mason University, and Williams, a private consultant at Regulatory Economics Group LLC, followed common practice and divided states into “control” and “license” states. In control states, state government acts as a wholesaler of spirituous liquor, buying from producers almost every legal drop of hard liquor ultimately sold by retailers and consumed in the state. In license states, government simply licenses private wholesale and retail providers.

By this definition, 18 states, including Michigan, are control states, while 32 states are license states.[†] The District of Columbia is also a licensing jurisdiction.

Reviewing the data for total alcohol-related deaths per 100,000 persons for control states and license states,[‡] Boudreaux and Williams concluded, “Clearly, there is not much difference here between the two kinds of states.” They added:

Breaking these data down on a state-by-state basis, and using various regression analyses to estimate the relationship between alcohol-related death rates in control states and such death rates in license states, we find no statistically significant relationship among the two types of states and their different regimes of spirits sales. Government-monopoly control of spirits does not reduce citizens’ risks of dying from alcohol-related causes.[5]

Boudreaux and Williams also used data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration to investigate the specific problems of drunk-driving fatalities, binge drinking among 12- to 17-year-olds and binge drinking among 18- to 25-year-olds.[§] In all three cases, the average rates for control states and license states were similar, and in no case did regression analyses reveal a statistically significant relationship between alcohol control and these alcohol-related problems.[6]

[*] Donald J. Boudreaux and Julia Williams, “Impaired Judgment: The Failure of Control States to Reduce Alcohol-Related Problems,” (Virginia Institute for Public Policy, 2010), (accessed March 27, 2012). The authors use data from the Alcohol-Related Disease Impact database and describe the deaths as “alcohol-related.” These total death numbers are for alcohol-attributable deaths in the CDC’s nomenclature. Ibid.; “Alcohol and Public Health: Alcohol-Related Disease Impact (ARDI),” (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2008), Alcohol-Related Disease Impact (ARDI) Alcohol-Attributable Deaths, (accessed April 20, 2012). The methods that the CDC uses to estimate alcohol-attributable deaths can lead to changes in the reported number of such deaths for a specific time period, even after that period has passed. Dafna Kanny, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, email correspondence with Michael D. LaFaive, Mackinac Center for Public Policy, May 4, 2012.

[†] Maryland, usually classified as a license state, is sometimes viewed as a control state. By that count, there are 19 control states and 31 license states. This inconsistent classification is due to the fact that the degree of alcohol control varies across Maryland’s counties. “History and Philosophy,” (Montgomery County, Maryland, Department of Liquor Control, 2012), (accessed April 23, 2012).

[‡] The number of alcohol-related deaths will tend to be higher in populous states simply because of their population size, not their alcohol control policy. Computing the number of alcohol-related deaths per 100,000 people in the state allows large and small states to be compared directly.

[§] Boudreaux and Williams cite the National Institute on Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse’s definition of binge drinking “as the consumption of five or more drinks for a male, or four or more drinks for a female, during a single ‘occasion.’ ” Boudreaux and Williams, “Impaired Judgment: The Failure of Control States to Reduce Alcohol-Related Problems,” (Virginia Institute for Public Policy, 2010), 5, (accessed March 27, 2012).