More than 9,000 Lives Lost Each Year, Many More Suffering While Big Alcohol Avoids Responsibility and Taxes

Los Angeles, July 23, 2008 -- Marin Institute, the alcohol industry watchdog, held a news conference and town hall meeting in Los Angeles today to release the disturbing findings of its landmark report, The Annual Catastrophe of Alcohol in California. Such a comprehensive study has never been done in California.

Before a large gathering of public health experts, policy-makers, and community activists, digital clocks ticked away in real time the incredible economic costs ($1,200 per second or $38.4 billion annually), incidents of harm (100 per hour or 921,928 annually) and deaths (1 per hour or 9,439 annually).


Marin’s study calculates that moderate-to-high alcohol consumption in California is costing roughly $1,000 per resident. By comparison, tobacco costs California approximately $550 per resident. The study also estimates $25.3 billion in lost productivity and reduced earnings.


“What makes these study results both so complex and so tragic is how alcohol-related harm takes so many forms and affects so many lives,” said Michele Simon, Marin Institute research and policy director. Simon co-authored the report with Ted Miller of the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation and Simon Rosen, Marin Institute research analyst.


Marin Institute compared the economic losses to those from natural disasters and concluded that alcohol costs far outpace earthquakes and fires.


"Unlike earthquakes, fires, floods and mudslides, which come along infrequently, the catastrophe of alcohol in California happens annually, with devastating effects, and can be prevented,” Rosen noted.


The study also estimates an additional $48.8 billion in quality of life costs, due to the pain and suffering of victims and families.


“These harms are not just economic, they are also deeply personal," Rosen said. "Quantifying the pain and suffering endured by numerous people from alcohol harm may be the most compelling result of this study.”  


Librarian and community activist Manya Anderson, a life-long resident of South Los Angeles, continues to witness firsthand the devastation of alcohol in her own family as well as in the communities of South L.A. 


“As residents, it is clear to us that both African American and Latino families have borne the brunt of the alcohol industry’s sale of liquor in our communities," Anderson said. "More liquor in our community means poor health and a lack of safety.”


California State Senator Mark Ridley-Thomas, D-Los Angeles, observed that, "Whether it’s consumed as a vintage wine from a prestigious appellation or a fortified variant, a micro-brew or malt liquor, an alcopop or high-end distilled spirit, alcohol's cost is much more than the price paid for a drink at the corner liquor store or neighborhood bar.”  He added, “As a legislator, I am looking forward to engaging my colleagues along with representatives of the industry in a discussion of the report's findings and recommendations."


Marin Institute is calling for a number of steps to reverse the catastrophe, including higher alcohol taxes to reduce excessive consumption and the related harm and costs. While the harmful cost of alcohol is equal to $2.80 per drink, current alcohol taxes come to only 8 cents per drink. “The alcohol lobby has been very effective in minimizing their taxes and fees to just 1.7 percent of their income from sales,” noted Bruce Livingston, Marin Institute’s executive director. “It’s time we hold Big Alcohol accountable by getting them to pay their fair share.”


Jonathan E. Fielding, MD, MPH, public health officer and director of the County of Los Angeles Public Health Department, said, “Marin Institute’s report is a much needed reminder of the harm and costs associated with alcohol consumption in California.” 


The study will be published next month by the peer-reviewed journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research. To download study findings visit