The committee was directed by Congress to “develop a cost-effective strategy to reduce underage drinking.” This charge was admirably direct and simple. Still, to complete the task satisfactorily, the committee had to come to grips with some important issues raised by this mandate.
The committee had first to consider what was meant by the idea of a strategy. To some, a strategy means a focused, sustained commitment to a single approach for accomplishing the desired result: for example, the adoption of a national media campaign designed to dissuade young people from drinking, or to restrict underage access to alcohol, or, a program to raise the price of alcohol through excise taxes. In this view, the important strategic decision would be to decide which of a variety of different policy tools or instruments is likely to produce the largest, most reliable effects at the least cost.
In the committee’s view, a strategy is better understood not as a single approach, but rather as a portfolio of approaches or instruments—a multipronged effort to reduce underage drinking that can be refined and adjusted as knowledge and experience accumulate. There are several factors about underage drinking that lead to this view. The first is the heterogeneity of the problem. As shown in Part I, underage drinking encompasses several distinct phenomena that require different preventive approaches. For example,