Transdisciplinary Alliances Encouraged to Inform Alcohol Policy

    • July 23, 2009

Alexander C. Wagenaar, PhD
Professor of Epidemiology and Health Policy Research
Institute of Child Health Policy
University of Florida, College of Medicine
Gainesville, Fla.

Programee background: Since the late 1970s, Alexander C. Wagenaar, PhD, has been studying the effects of increasing the legal drinking age to 21 on a state-by-state basis—in addition to other public health policy issues such as safety belt laws, speed limits and childhood injury prevention. His work influenced the development of a uniform nationwide policy setting 21 as the legal drinking age.

The project: RWJF created the Innovators Combating Substance Abuse award program to nurture and promote innovation in combating substance abuse. Between 2000 and 2003, some 20 senior researchers, practitioners and policy-makers received Innovators awards. See Program Results Report for more information on the program.

Wagenaar used his 2001 Innovators award to prompt wide-ranging discussions of legal liability across three high risk products: alcohol, tobacco and firearms, and to transfer lessons from those working in one area to those working in the others. In particular, Wagenaar wanted to use the experience from tobacco and gun litigation to inform liability policy regarding alcohol.

Wagenaar also examined the potential feasibility and effectiveness of other alcohol policies, such as excise tax policies.

The Results

Wagenaar reported the following results of his project to RWJF:

  • Five invitation-only meetings brought together scientists and public health lawyers who work at the intersection of science and law in the fields of alcohol, tobacco and firearms. Subsequent smaller meetings brought together alcohol scientists from the fields of sociology, psychology, psychiatry, transportation and neurology. These transdisciplinary meetings created a community of people who had not worked together before.

  • A book chapter examined the role of litigation in deterring sales and marketing of alcohol to youth. Wagenaar describes the functions of litigation and how it relates to marketing and selling alcohol to underage youth. The chapter, entitled, "Deterring Sales and Marketing of Alcohol to Youth: Role of Litigation" appears in Addiction Treatment: Science and Policy for the Twenty-first Century (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2007).