One year into the ban on ‘nips’ – or small alcohol bottles – at least one city councillor is proclaiming victory based on ambulance data that shows major decreases in the numbers of alcohol-related transfers.
Councillor Roy Avellaneda said he has been monitoring data and anecdotal information surrounding the nip ban, which he advocated for a little over a year ago, and believes that the ban has resulted in major victories.
First among those victories is the numbers of alcohol-related transfers done by the ambulance in Chelsea.
“It’s been one year and it’s been the most significant feature in what we see with alcoholism and reducing the alcoholism that plagued the downtown,” he said. “If I was solely to look at how the number of ambulance transfers has decreased for alcohol-related calls, it strongly correlates to the time that the nip ban went into place.”
Date from Cataldo ambulance regarding alcohol-related calls shows that there was an astounding number of those transfers in the past. In 2015, there were 872 transfers, followed by 715 in 2016 and 742 in 2017.
The nip ban went into effect in the middle of 2018, and Avellaneda points out that the ambulance data begins to decrease at the same time.
In 2018, there was a decrease to 556 transfers, and this year, 2019, data would support that the transfers have nose-dived. As of June 30, there were only 127 transfers. Doubling that number in the second half of the year would still only result in around 260 transfers – which would be 50 percent less than in 2018 and nearly 600 fewer transfers than in 2015.
“My figures show a result of 66 percent fewer alcohol-related ambulance responses and I think that’s unbelievable,” he said, noting that public works personnel have also said they are experiencing less nip bottle litter issues too.
While other things might have also contributed to the decrease, including the advanced work of the HUB by the Police Department and its partners, Avellaneda points out that the HUB does great work but mostly related to opiate and drug issues. The alcohol issues, he said, stood out to him initially because they had plagued the downtown since he was a kid in the 1980s. It had become normal, and the numbers of ambulance transfers shocked him when he first saw that they numbered in the 800s.
They were nearly seven times greater than those of other issues, like opiates, and that’s when he said he decided to join the fight to ban nips.
“I felt we were focusing way too much on one issue and not enough on the other,” he said. “There were seven times as many responses for alcohol and we needed to do something on that too…It’s something I’ve seen since I was a kid. It got to a point where we just accepted it. When you talked to merchants about it, they would say, ‘Well, that’s Chelsea.’ That’s not the Chelsea we want and we don’t have to allow these behaviors – and by that I mean the behaviors of people who are selling these nips to people with a problem or addiction.”
The battle has been difficult, though.
While the City has instituted the ban, nine package stores in the city have sued in court, and that case is pending before the state Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission (ABCC). The City is arguing that the ABCC doesn’t have jurisdiction, while the stores argue it does. That has been pending for many months, since earlier this year.
The process is slow because Chelsea has been the first community to successfully go through with a ban, despite the fact that many have tried and many desire to follow suit.
“There are a lot of eyes on this decision,” said Avellaneda. “There are a lot of communities around the state what want to try this. There are many that did try to pass it but the alcoholic beverage lobby is so strong they turned back. Chelsea has done it and all eyes in the state are looking at us to see if we can withstand a legal challenge.”
Surviving that challenge could be made even stronger if the data holds regarding ambulance transfers.
“There is no next step here, just monitoring the situation,” he said. “They didn’t just go buy the next size to drink. We aren’t seeing the next size bottles littering the streets. That argument is out. I believe we can see this made significant changes and we’ll just build on that.”