“Wanna shotgun?”

Eli Cahan

That’s the typical wakeup call from my roommates on gamedays, the proverbial Saturday morning rooster during the fall. “Shotgunning” beers and “handle-passing” hard liquor are staples of my rowdy tailgate moments. These drinking habits lie in stark contrast to what I remember from freshman year: waiting in the omnipresent keg line for a small, filthy cup of flat beer and chugging it as fast as physically possible. Pulling from a triple-distilled bottle of pure class was a rare delicacy back then.

Oh how the times have changed. Nov. 1, 2011, the Michigan Liquor Control Commission rolled out their “keg tag registration” law. The law requires retailers to keep records of keg purchasers, and purchasers to affix tags to their kegs until returned. Rep. Mark Meadows (D–East Lansing), stated at the time that the law “creates a paper trail for police to hold the buyer accountable … identifying the individual who’s really responsible for the problem.” The intent of the law was to curb “out-of-control college parties and blind pigs.” A secondary objective was to staunch the supply of alcohol to minors, and reduce binge drinking.

The law, however, has not had that effect. Though according to an owner at Champions, it has reduced keg purchases at some campus liquor stores by up to 95 percent, it has done little to slow underage drinkers. In the absence of kegs, party hosts have resorted to buying cases of beer and hard liquor. While the Department of Public Safety stopped keeping statistics on Liquor Law Violations at the end of 2012, the 2014 Annual Security Report shows that, in the year following the keg registration law, citations for LLVs increased dramatically. This includes a 10-percent increase in “referrals for disciplinary action” (colloquially known as dorm “write-ups”), a 16-percent increase in total citations, and a 239-percent increase in citations on “public property.” These were calculated by comparing 2012 LLVs to 2011 LLVs, as reported by DPS. Public property, in the tailgate context, refers to the sidewalks and areas in between parties.

These numbers are codified by the experiences of various students on campus. In regards to the efficacy of the law, Business senior Jordan David, a member of a fraternity, noted that “in the absence of kegs, (upperclassmen) have a lessened responsibility to take ownership … result(ing) in the purchases of exorbitant amounts of cans to replace it. That has facilitated even more drinking and alcohol consumption.” Indeed, in the context of a college party, it is important to understand that the real “regulators” of drinking at the party tend to be older students, who are responsible for alcohol acquisition and distribution. As keg registration laws have dissuaded keg-leasing, cans have introduced a fortuitous opportunity for reduced host liability.

Furthermore, addressing whether the proliferation of cans has accelerated drinking behaviors at parties, David said “prior to the keg ban, you had to wait in line behind six people to fill up one cup of beer. Now, there’s an overabundance of cans at every pregame and party we attend, with easy access and no constraints … Binge drinking has definitely increased because there are many more games surrounding a beer can rather than a cup of beer.” Suffice it to say, anecdotal accounts support the idea that keg registration laws have done little to curb binge drinking, large parties or underage drinking.

Yet despite these campus experiences, scientific studies continue to emerge which demonstrate the efficacy of keg registration laws in lowering binge drinking. A 2011 study from the Journal of Adolescent Health clearly indicates the negative correlation between per-capita beer consumption and the institution of keg registration laws. It appears that the confounding factor here is cost. Since kegs are typically much more economical on a price per fluid ounce basis than cans (about 45 percent cheaper in some cases), it seems logical that the introduction of liability would, across the general population, dissuade drinking rather than suffering the significant premium for cans. However, with a significant body of students from wealthier backgrounds than those contained within the study, party hosts can (and do) bite the cost bullet.

So the question remains: how we can reduce underage and binge drinking on campus? The danger of such activities is obvious: manifested acutely in the forms of trauma and asphyxia, and chronically as developmental and addiction issues. Well, the Interfraternity Council got it right in February, banning hard liquor from open parties. Further steps in this direction would be prudent, as hard liquor is a key culprit behind dangerous and debilitating binge drinking. University authorities must take a stance on these issues: they must be held responsible to draft better, bespoke policies in lieu of ineffective and inadequate broad keg registration laws. A plea from a former football star is hardly enough to influence students to “Stay in the Blue.” Especially when they’ll have to go watch Team 135’s offense two hours later.

Eli Cahan can be reached at emcahan@umich.edu.

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