Drink special regulations proposed for North Dakota campus

Officials argue that certain bans benefit students by curbing high-risk drinking.

Karlee Weinmann

Drinking is a part of most students’ college experience. But, according to safety advocates, students often take consumption too far, and drink specials, in part, are to blame.

To combat unsafe drinking habits at the University of North Dakota, the state might consider legislation to ban certain kinds of drink specials researchers say contribute to extreme over-consumption by young drinkers.

The legislation could include bans on all-you-can-drink specials as well as others that encourage heavy consumption in a short period of time.

Grant Wilson, manager of Licenses and Consumer Services for Minneapolis, said there has not been talk in recent years of similar restrictions in the city.

“It hasn’t been discussed in any formal means,” he said. “It would have to get raised at the City Council level and then go from there.”

Should such restrictions be proposed, Wilson said his department would be responsible for conducting research and collecting information for the City Council and the city attorney’s office to review.

Dr. Karin Walton, director of the North Dakota Higher Education Consortium for substance abuse and prevention, said the group looks at how public policy can keep students safe.

“We have talked about how drink specials promote consuming large quantities of alcohol in a period of time at a reduced price, and we think that jeopardizes student safety,” she said.

Walton said the greatest emphasis is being placed on drinks that are reduced in price on a specific day or at certain times and all-you-can-drink specials, because those encourage intoxication.

According to a 2003 Harvard School of Public Health

study, there is a “strong association between the presence of (drink specials) and higher rates of heavy drinking on campus.”

In 2002, 24 bars in the University of Wisconsin-Madison area agreed to participate in a voluntary ban on late-night weekend drink specials so the effect of the ban on student drinking habits could be assessed by the city’s Alcohol Licensing Review Committee.

The University of Wisconsin-Madison and the city each fund half of the ALRC.

Joel Plant, Madison’s alcohol policy coordinator, said the experiment was halted when bars were sued for collusion and price-fixing.

“Some people will argue that the short time the voluntary ban was in place didn’t show any positive effect, but what I would argue is that the period of time that we had to measure wasn’t substantial enough,” he said. “I think the filing of lawsuits really changed the tone of cooperation here in Madison.”

The ban lasted until spring 2004.

Plant said the Madison City Council is not willing to revisit the ban until the federal lawsuit, filed in 2005 after a state suit was dismissed by a circuit court judge and in appellate court, concludes.

Some University of Minnesota officials think certain regulations would be beneficial for students.

Dana Farley, director of health promotion for Boynton Health Service and instructor in the School of Public Health, said the University is concerned with developing an environmental strategy that would change the culture of drinking.

“High-risk drinking – which is having five or more drinks in a sitting – is a concern for the University, for students, for parents and for neighborhoods, because when students engage in this high-risk drinking, they are more vulnerable to being a victim of a crime or more likely to do things they regret, be injured or be in an accident,” he said.

Farley said people often focus on the individual when dealing with alcohol issues, but the public health approach looks at the environment.

He said bar owners, parents and students each play a role in choices made in terms of drinking.

But some bar owners are reluctant to accept the sort of restrictions that would be imposed by proposed bans.

Tom Hutsell, co-owner of the on-campus Big 10 Restaurant and Bar, said the city should not have jurisdiction over business practices of individual establishments.

“Drink specials are the choice of bar owners, and it’s the choice of the customer to choose whether to indulge or not,” he said.

Journalism and communications senior Mark Aronson also opposes restrictions.

Government officials “have done their job in setting the precedent of a drinking age of 21,” he said. “Anything beyond that is a little too specific for them.”