Here’s a curious artifact from the 1842 Temperance Almanac, and a great example of why the prohibitionists were as nutty then was they are today. They saw, and see, evil and vice everywhere, with any single one not unto itself, but instead having to lead to more ruin and debauchery. While today we know that smoking isn’t the best choice you can make, in the mid-1800s it was considered a fairly benign pursuit, and in fact remained so well into my lifetime. I recall staying up with my psychotic stepfather, a chain-smoker, to watch the last television commercial air before midnight on New Year’s Day when they became forbidden on January 2, 1971. I’ve never been a cigarette smoker, though I used to enjoy the occasional cigar from time to time. The one thing I dislike more than smoking is obnoxious non-smokers, especially ex-smokers. But even the most ardent anti-tobacco advocate would have to admit that puffing on a pipe will not with absolute certainty lead to drinking alcohol. There’s no causation. That some people do both is, at best, a coincidence brought upon by the obvious fact that many people smoke (especially in 1842) and many people drink. But there are surely enough examples in everyone’s own experience to render such a blanket statement untenable. But for prohibitionists, it gets even weirder.
So, as Sigmund Freud would later say, “sometimes a pipe is just a pipe.” Just don’t expect a prohibitionist to believe it. Instead, if you smoke a pipe, you won’t be able to help yourself, it will cause you to drink and get drunk. According to 1842 prohibitionist logic, “smoking induces intoxication” — meaning it will actually “bring about, produce, or cause” you to drink. But that’s not where it ends, get drunk and that in turn “induces bile,” which is “a bitter, alkaline, yellow or greenish liquid, secreted by the liver, that aids in absorption and digestion, especially of fats.” That, in turn, “induces jaundice” — “yellow discoloration of the skin, whites of the eyes, etc., due to an increase of bile pigments in the blood, often symptomatic of certain diseases, as hepatitis” followed inevitably and inexplicably by “dropsy,” which is “an infectious disease of fishes, characterized by a swollen, spongelike body and protruding scales, caused by a variety of the bacterium Pseudomonas punctata.” Yeah, that seems likely. But wait, it gets even worse. That fish disease you can’t help but contract “terminates in death.” So definitely enjoy that tobacco. Or as they conclude. “Put that in your pipe and smoke it.” I’m willing to bet you can find modern prohibitionists who still believe it’s true, or that at least once you take a drink your life is over and can only fall into abject ruin.
While St. Nicholas is best known — in America, at least — for wearing red and white and giving presents to Children each December 25, he’s actually the patron saint for a number of professions, places and afflictions. His feast day is not actually Christmas Day, but almost three weeks earlier on December 6. That’s the reason why the holiday beer Samichlaus is brewed each year on this day. The person we associate with Christmas, Santa Claus, was based on Saint Nicholas, who was originally known (and still is in some places) as Bishop Nicholas of Myra.
Nicholas is the patron saint of brewers, among many others. He’s also the patron saint against imprisonment, against robberies, against robbers. And Nick’s the patron for apothecaries, bakers, barrel makers, boatmen, boot blacks, boys, brewers, brides, captives, children, coopers, dock workers, druggists, fishermen, Greek Catholic Church in America, Greek Catholic Union, grooms, judges, lawsuits lost unjustly, longshoremen, maidens, mariners, merchants, penitent murderers, newlyweds, old maids, parish clerks, paupers, pawnbrokers, perfumeries, perfumers, pharmacists, pilgrims, poor people, prisoners, sailors, scholars, schoolchildren, shoe shiners, spinsters, students, penitent thieves, travellers, University of Paris, unmarried girls, and watermen. Places he’s the patron for are Apulia, Italy; Avolasca, Italy; Bardolino, Italy; Bari, Italy; Cammarata, Sicily, Italy; Cardinale, Italy; Cas Concos, Spain; Creazzo, Italy; Duronia, Italy; Fossalto, Italy; Gagliato, Italy; Greece; La Thuile, Italy; Lecco, Italy; Limerick, Ireland; Liptovský Mikulás, Slovakia; Lorraine; Mazzano Romano, Italy; Mentana, Italy; Miklavž na Dravskem polju, Slovenia; Naples, Italy; Portsmouth, England; Russia; Sassari, Italy; Sicily; Is-Siggiewi, and Malta.
He also has many names around the world, such as Baba Chaghaloo, Father Christmas, Joulupukki, Kanakaloka, Kris Kringle, Pere Noel, Papa Noël, Santa Claus, and Weihnachtsmann (“Christmas Man” or “Nikolaus”), to name just a few.
Here’s what Wikipedia has to say:
Saint Nicholas (March 15, 270 – December 6, 346) is the common name for Nicholas of Myra, a saint and Bishop of Myra (in Lycia, part of modern-day Turkey). Because of the many miracles attributed to his intercession, he is also known as Nicholas the Wonderworker. He had a reputation for secret gift-giving, such as putting coins in the shoes of those who left them out for him, and is now commonly identified with Santa Claus. His reputation evolved among the faithful, as was the custom in his time. In 1087, his relics were furtively translated to Bari, in southern Italy; for this reason, he is also known as Nicholas of Bari.
The historical Saint Nicholas is remembered and revered among Catholic and Orthodox Christians. He is also honoured by various Anglican and Lutheran churches. Saint Nicholas is the patron saint of sailors, merchants, archers, and children, and students in Greece, Belgium, Romania, Bulgaria, Georgia, Russia, the Republic of Macedonia, Slovakia, Serbia and Montenegro. He is also the patron saint of Barranquilla, Bari, Amsterdam, Beit Jala, and Liverpool. In 1809, the New-York Historical Society convened and retroactively named Sancte Claus the patron saint of Nieuw Amsterdam, the Dutch name for New York City. He was also a patron of the Varangian Guard of the Byzantine emperors, who protected his relics in Bari. So beloved is Saint Nicholas by Russians, one commonly heard saying is that “if God dies, at least we’ll still have St. Nicholas.”
The American image of Santa Claus in red and white has more to do with marketing than anything else. I wrote about this in The Santa Hypocrisy a couple of years ago when the Shelton Brothers were in hot water from several states who tried to tell them Santa Claus on a beer label threatened the American way of life and especially the impressionable young kiddies who would all be led down the path to underage drinking and alcoholism because Santa was depicted on a beer label. It was an utterly ridiculous position and they ultimately backed down, but it’s indicative of our puritan hang-ups as a culture and our general paternalism where we believe everyone needs to be protected. And in retrospect I can now see how the “institutionalized demonization of alcohol” creates the conditions for such decisions. Remember the message? “Alcohol is evil. No one can be trusted with it.” When that’s the underlying assumption, you create rules for what can and can’t be displayed on a label that are way beyond reason; standards no other products have to follow because they’re not seen as inherently evil.
But before the 20th century and in other parts of the world, Santa Claus was and still is depicted in many different ways and in various colors. Father Christmas, for example, is often seen wearing a green robe, as in the British Isles he’s more associated with nature and the old Celtic religions. The yule log, Christmas tree, wreaths, mistletoe and many other features we take for granted during the holidays do not have direct Christian origins, but were appropriated from pagan religions in order to make the transition to Christianity easier for the masses to make. Personally, I love a green Santa Claus because it reminds me of hops, and a Santa that stands for hops is one I can get behind.
Few American beer labels show Santa precisely because of our peculiar brand of paternalism and the label laws spawned by our institutionalized demonization of alcohol. Santa’s Private Reserve, from Rogue in Oregon, is one of the few I can think of year after year. Most, not surprisingly, come from abroad, where people take a more reasonable approach to both the holidays and alcohol. There’s the famous Santa’s Butt from Ridgeway Brewing in England, but also Pickled Santa from the Hop Back Brewery and Austria’s Samichlaus is translated as “Santa Claus.”
Why does it seem like we’re the only uptight nation on Earth when it comes to this silly issue. In Hong Kong, a giant Santa Claus is shown with a mug of beer, and no one seems to be that concerned. Try putting something like that up here, and all hell would break loose. We’re the only country complaining that there’s a “War on Christmas,” as stupid a notion as ever there was one, especially in a nation where those who celebrate Christmas constitute the vast majority.
The point is if the church can have a patron saint of brewing, why do religious people object to St. Nicholas being on beer labels? Wouldn’t it make perfect sense for brewers to want to place their patron saint on their beer?
Throughout Europe, Monks not only kept alive the method of brewing beer but improved techniques for making it. A Benedictine nun in Germany, Hildegard von Bingen, is most likely responsible for the introduction of hops in beer. Religion and brewing are intertwined throughout history and, in every place except the United States, that continues to be the case. Why? What about our particular religiosity makes us incapable of seeing that and reconciling it? Why is it seemingly acceptable for Santa Claus to be used to sell everything under the sun … except alcohol. Santa sells cigarettes, soda pop, fast food and pretty much everything else with capitalistic glee yet alcohol is the corrupting influence? That’s going too far somehow? Please.
That Santa Claus only appeals to children is usually the rallying cry of the buffoons who complain about this sort of thing, but a survey of pop culture will reveal that St. Nick is used in all manner of adult contexts. Kris Kringle, like the spirit of Christmas itself, belongs to all of us, not just children. There’s no doubt that I love seeing Christmas through the fresh eyes of my children, their innocence and wonder adds a new dimension to my enjoyment of the season. But I loved the holidays as much before I was a father and after I was an adult, too.
That St. Nicholas appeals to wide array of people should be obvious from the huge number of groups and places that consider him their patron. When so many look to him for comfort in such a varied number of ways, how can anyone say what he is or what he isn’t, where he’s appropriate or where he’s not? They can’t of course, despite neo-prohibitionists and our government’s attempts to the contrary. As the patron saint of brewers, Santa Claus is, and ought to be, perfectly at home on a bottle of beer.
There’s also a wealth of information about the real Santa Claus at the Saint Nicholas Center online.
Here’s another great example of the circle jerk nature of prohibitionist groups. This is, I’m finding, the standard operating procedure for most, if not all, of them. They decide what they’re opposed to, in this case alcohol, and then they commission — that is pay for — research that they claim proves their point. Tobacco companies are the classic example, insofar as they funded lots of studies showing how safe smoking was despite independent research revealing just the opposite. How the “study” is framed is one of the many troubling aspects of how they do this. Assumptions are made that all alcohol is bad and that people who consume it will abuse it and be a burden on society, causing innumerable harms to themselves and others. That’s a persistent theme that permeates much of the so-called scientific literature, there’s hardly a whiff of impartiality if you look deeply enough into it.
A pointed example I recall, outside the alcohol world, is the Meese Commission Report which was directed by then-President Ronald Reagan to find a link between pornography and criminal or anti-social behavior. The important difference between this, and the earlier commission by Johnson/Nixon which resulted in the 1970 Commission on Obscenity and Pornography, is that from an impartial starting point that report found no such link. In fact, the 1970 commission “recommended against any restrictions for adults” and overall “the report found that obscenity and pornography were not important social problems, that there was no evidence that exposure to such material was harmful to individuals, and that current legal and policy initiatives were more likely to create problems than solve them.” Regardless of your feelings about pornography, what’s significant is that Reagan’s mandate to Meese was not to see if there was causation between pornography and violence, but was instead he was tasked with finding one. That was the goal of the report, to find a link to please Reagan’s base on the religious right who weren’t happy with the results of the 1970 report. And that’s how I feel about GAPA and the countless quasi-scientific prohibitionist organizations and their “studies.” They are, by design, looking for trouble, and so naturally they find it everywhere they look.
So once they’ve manufactured and/or exaggerated the problem, the next step is to get the research published in quasi-scientific journals, in some cases one owned or funded by the same organizations. Then they send out press releases claiming their position has been scientifically proven. They usually neglect to mention that they themselves created the “science” they’re touting because it’s more effective if it appears to be objective. Unfortunately, it rarely is, but such is the state of journalism today that press releases are more often reprinted verbatim without any fact-checking or even questioning the content. It’s apparently enough if it simply has a credible-sounding “scientific” journal name attached to it. Once you’ve got enough of these “studies” you can then hold a conference of like-minded individuals where you can present your findings.
So in October of this year, the “Global Alcohol Policy Conference” was held in South Korea. It was hosted by a group I wasn’t familiar with; the Global Alcohol Policy Alliance (GAPA), but which appears to be more of a loose organization of national prohibitionist groups that was formed in 2000 to share information and hold annual conferences. Although I don’t know many of the international groups, the people from the U.S. make it clear who’s invited to the party. GAPA board members include George Hacker, who runs the notorious prohibitionist Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI); Thomas F. Babor, the author of Alcohol: No Ordinary Commodity: Research and Public Policy (an anti-alcohol handbook) and David Jernigan, who’s the Director of the also notoriously anti-alcohol Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth (CAMY), funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Behavior and Society at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Jerigan was also the author of this travesty: Bud Blamed In Absurd E.R. Visit Study.
Here’s where the circle gets tighter and more insular. There are sixteen board members for GAPA. At the recent Global Alcohol Policy Conference, there were eight speakers on the program. Of those eight, six are also board members of GAPA. Similarly, GAPA is divided into regions. The North American region includes four member organizations: CSPI (Centre for Science in the Public Interest), The Marin Institute (now known as Alcohol Justice), The Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth and the Office of Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse, created by the collaboration of the AMA and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. If you’re a regular reader here you’ll no doubt recognize those groups as being prohibitionist to their core.
Looking over the program for the conference, the topics all revolve around the negative aspects of alcohol, the harms, the addicts, the too-low taxation and regulation. Reading over the titles, it’s hard not to leave with the impression that it’s about how to bring down alcohol completely. I couldn’t find one positive word about drinking, which seems incongruous to my life experience and literally just about every person I know. Surely, they could find some balance to their efforts, but instead it feels punitive, divisive and almost mean-spirited. Some of the speeches given during the conference are available for download, while others — most, really — give you an error message when trying to download: “Applicants sponsored by alcohol manufacturers are not allowed.” How did they know? What don’t they want people in the alcohol industry to know about regarding what they’re saying or doing?
Another glimpse into prohibitionists worldwide comes from GAPA’s internal magazine, The Globe. In the latest issue, Issue 3 2013 they tackle such horrible behavior by alcohol companies as donating water to disaster relief with the overall theme of “Beware of the Alcohol Industry Bearing Gifts.”
I recall the Marin Institute similarly whining when Anheuser-Busch canned water and sent it to Haiti after the devastating earthquake there, a story I detailed in Let No Good Deed Go Unpunished.
So how was the conference portrayed in the news online? Upstreaming Alcohol Policy reported that an “important theme running through the conference was the role of the global alcohol industry in maintaining and intensifying alcohol-related harm through its tactics and practices.” In other words, we’re all evil and wish your family harm, a persistent theme in all prohibitionist propaganda. Corporations & Health Watch agreed and went even further, reporting that “Dr. Thomas Babor of the University of Connecticut, for example, stressed reasons to doubt the sincerity of the global alcohol industry in its insistence to be part of the solution to alcohol problems.” Yes, we want everybody binge-drinking all the time, every day. There’s nothing better for the alcohol industry than drunk people killing themselves and others, especially when we all have families and want them in harm’s way, too. I’m so sick of this one, where alcohol is criticized for advertising or wanting to sell more products because that, they claim, is “clearly to increase overall consumption — a strategy which is inimical to public health and public safety.” Every alcohol corporation, at least under U.S. law, is like every corporation, beholden to shareholders and must do what they can to increase the share price, in other words increase the business. It’s the law. There’s plenty of corporate behavior I’m not wild about, but at least I understand it. If you want corporations to act differently, change their charters; change the law governing them. But stop making it sound like they’d kill their mothers for a dime. Stop painting them, and all of us in the alcohol industry, as evil. We’re just not.
Their conclusion was that “reducing the global burden of alcohol-related harm will require advocates to effectively counter that industry influence – through reliance on the best science, savvy media advocacy, and robust grassroots organization.” The black humor and irony in that is that the science they’re referring to is anything but the “best” — or evidence-based, as they often phrase it. “Savvy media advocacy” means propaganda which I find usually contains falsehoods and exaggerations, at best. And “robust grassroots organization” means, more often than not, groups funded by large, wealthy prohibitionist groups like the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation or others.
The overall impression I have from watching these groups for over twenty years is that they’re so shamelessly dishonest in their actions and their rhetoric that I can’t really understand how they can claim the high moral ground that’s so inherent in their position. They set up the argument as a David vs. Goliath situation which is laughably wrong. Does “big alcohol” have a lot of money. Sure, but so does the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and most of the others. They’ve been spending their money influencing politicians, spreading their message and trying to persuade others to their way of thinking. Does that sound like the same thing that they accuse alcohol manufacturers of doing? It should, because they’re doing exactly the same thing, and have been since at least 1933, when Prohibition ended. The only real difference is they claim to be doing it for righteous reasons and believe those of us who enjoy drinking a beer or even making or selling it, are the spawn of satan. The problem with that is that we’re not. We’re ordinary people, often with many of the same set of beliefs as the prohibitionists. Contrary to the propaganda, we beerists love our friends and families, have our own faith, are civic-minded and contribute to our community and society at large. We’re regular people who also enjoy drinking beer. Period. It’s only through the lens of prohibitionists that we appear any different. And until that cycle is broken and prohibitionists stop creating self-fulfilling propaganda, we’ll never solve any of the real problems that some individuals have with alcohol.
Here’s another lesson on how to mislead people with your headlines, brought to us, of course, by the group who claims to be keeping the alcohol industry honest, the good people of Alcohol Justice. This is at least the third time I’ve seen them tweet this headline — they do so love to beat dead horses — and this morning I happened to see it again: Diageo Admits Targeting 18-24 Year Olds with Red Stripe Jamaican Alcopop. Clicking on the link in the tweet takes you to a press release from earlier this month with a very similarly misleading title: Diageo Admits Targeting 18-24 Year Olds for Red Stripe Alcopop.
Sounds bad, right? Oh, no! Has Diageo really admitted to targeting underage kids with alcoholic products? Have they finally run afoul of the law, as Alcohol Justice (A.J.) continues to insist that all of us who work in the alcohol industry are evil inside? Oh, we probably hate children, too? Raise your hand if you think that’s what they’ve caught Diageo admitting. If your hand shot up, you may want to read someone else’s blog. Maybe one focusing on puppies or cute cat photos. Here’s what A.J. is complaining mightily about. In Jamaica, Diageo is test-marketing a malt-based alcohol beverage associated with the Red Stripe brand, called Burst, and is hoping to attract the 18-24 youth market there. In what A.J. terms “a shocking display of truth rarely seen among alcohol producers,” it was someone in Jamaica who made this criminal statement. I assume they’ve alerted the district attorney or attorneys general to start the indictment, and extradition, proceedings.
But before you grab your pitchfork from the closet, let’s examine this a bit closer. Jamaica, like the majority of the civilized work, allows adults to drink before age 21, most at a more reasonable 18. In Jamaica, however, according to the International Center for Alcohol Policies the age when people can legally consume alcohol is actually 16, although some sources say Jamaica has no minimum age. So let’s look at this again. A spokesperson for Red Stripe, a Jamaican company (owned by Diageo), speaking in Jamaica about a Jamaican test market, talks about a product they believe will appeal to persons who are between the ages of 18 and 24, where the minimum age is 16. So explain to me again what laws have been broken, or why this is such a headline-generating admission?
The answer is that she also included this horrific bit in her statement: Burst “is [also] being considered for United States distribution.” Wow, a multi-national company is thinking that one of their products that sells in one market might also sell in another. Based on this stunner, A.J. concludes that “‘It’s clear now that Diageo tests alcopop beverages on 18-24 year old cohorts of young women and men in other countries before marketing them in places like the United States where the drinking age is appropriately higher,’ said Bruce Lee Livingston, Executive Director / CEO of Alcohol Justice.” Talk about a tempest in a teacup. Talk about unmitigated bullshit propaganda blown up to create a headline, is more like it.
Michael Scippa, Public Affairs Director at Alcohol Justice, adds. “Now that we have in a producer’s own words, that they are targeting people under the age of 21 with alcopops, we are renewing our call for change to reduce the threat to youth.” Hey skippy, they admitted they were “targeting” drinkers under 21 where it’s legal to drink when you’re under 21. It’s legal for them to sell to whatever the age group is legal in that country, something you undoubtedly know. But I guess the temptation was too great to make it sound like that also meant they were going after underage drinkers in the U.S., too, even though they said nothing of the kind. If, and when, they decide to sell Burst in the U.S., you can’t possibly believe they’ll openly target anyone under 21 years of age. Considering you claim to be keeping big alcohol honest, it’s a wonder anyone listens to you at all, given how fast and loose you play with the truth. Because if nothing else, this is a willful bending of statements and facts to fit your narrative, and omitting in the headline the fact that the statements were made in Jamaica, about Jamaica, makes it obvious you intended to mislead people with that headline.
In the final paragraph A.J.’s chief propagandist Bruce Lee Livingston has the temerity to suggest that “[i]t may also be time for even state attorneys general to subpoena Ms. Mitchell['s] … records. Erin Mitchell works for Diageo in Jamaica. I’m fairly certain state attorneys general do not have subpoena powers in other countries, a fact I’m certain he knows, as well. But it makes a more alarmist finale to this hatchet job of misleading propaganda. Don’t look now, but I think your nose is growing.
There was an article in the New York Daily News earlier this week, though actually it was a question answered by a physician who refers to himself as “The Running Doc™.” The fact that it’s trademarked is, I think, pretty funny, but I suppose there’s no reason why he can’t brand himself like anyone else.
A reader from upstate New York asks the doc if “beer is a cure for an upset stomach and kidney stones” and “[i]s drinking beer now a medical treatment?” But he begins his question with a request. “Please don’t laugh!” In this day and age, I suppose I should be happy enough with Dr. Maharam’s response. “I am really NOT laughing. Your friends are smart — beer actually does have some medicinal purposes. In moderation, obviously.” The Running Doc™ goes on to mention a handful of scientific studies that suggest drinking in moderation is good for what ales you, though considering how much there is now in the scientific literature, it’s a very small drop in the ocean of the body of ways in which responsible alcohol consumption can provide health benefits. And naturally he mentions the recent studies that suggest a beer after exercising — or running — but not the pièce de résistance, that total mortality is improved by moderate drinking.
Honestly, re-reading Lewis G. Maharam, MD’s response in The Running Doc says beer — especially ginger beer — has medicinal value but only in moderation, I think his answer is pretty good, and he at least treats the question seriously and also mentions that there is a body of scientific work that supports the idea of health benefits for drinking alcohol.
What bothers me, and was more of a camel’s back-breaking straw, was that he felt the need to mention, over and over again, moderation. It’s in the title, it’s the photo caption, and he mentions it twice more in the body of a very short article. Does it need mentioning? Maybe, but every time anyone from the medical or scientific community talks about any health benefits from drinking alcohol, they always qualify their statements with warnings like this. Really, they go out of their way to hit you over the head with them, as if we all need to hear it multiple times, or we might not understand. Is there really anyone alive today who’s missed the prohibitionist’s message that drinking too much is bad for you? It’s like the warning labels on packs of cigarettes; totally unnecessary, but covering their asses.
If the mounting evidence is showing, overwhelmingly, that alcohol can be good for you, then let’s just say so. We all know that a hamburger is a good source of protein but no one’s confused or has to be told that eating a ton of red meat might not be the best thing for your heart. Can they really be worried someone will go on a binge and blame the doctor for telling them it was okay to drink, saying they didn’t realize that they couldn’t just drink as much as they wanted? Honestly, this is, I think, the results of the bullying tactics of the prohibitionists, who’ve shouted down anyone who has a kind word to say about alcohol. They’ve made any health claims on beer labels verboten, tried their damnedest to limit where alcohol can be advertised, sold and even consumed, even by consenting adults. They’ve made it illegal in some states for parents to even educate their own children about it, while at the same time using only alarmist, fraudulent educational materials to lie to those same kids in public schools.
At this point, we all know that a beer or two a day can be good for us, both for physical and mental health, and over the past few decades, the scientific literature has caught up with what beer lovers have known all along. The only way to stop a bully is to stop giving him his power. Stand up to him, or her. If beer can be healthy, let’s say so. Sure, it’s best in moderation, but let’s not forget that numerous studies have shown that even drinking too much is, in the long run, better for you than not drinking at all. Overall mortality is improved most by moderate drinking, more so than by people who completely abstain, and yet even people who overindulge tend to live longer than the teetotalers, so all this qualifying of the results by medical science is not really helping anyone, it’s just continuing to pander to the prohibitionists, keeping the bullies mollified.
The prohibitionist propaganda machine that is Alcohol Justice is out in full swing today. They just sent out a tweet to the faithful, telling them. “Raising alcohol taxes reduces harm…it’s a fact.” We obviously have a different definition of what constitutes a “fact.” I tend to think of a fact as something not open to debate, not a position that everyone doesn’t agree with, or for which there is no counter-argument.
But the tweet also included the graphic below, which is a bottle showing all of the bullshit “harms” that AJ insists are caused by alcohol. I won’t get into each of them, or how almost all of them are potential things that can happen to a person who drinks immoderately, or can happen to any person for as many other reasons as there are people. They aren’t caused by the drink any more than a hamburger causes a heart attack. They may be a contributing factor for some people, but their continuing insistence that they are directly caused by any amount of alcohol goes a long way toward proving how out of touch with reality they are and just how fanatical and intrenched they’ve become in more recent years. Most people you and I know have been enjoying alcohol our entire lives without contracting any of these diseases or devolving to a life of crime. In fact, the moderate consumption of alcohol might actually make one healthier, a “fact” that Alcohol Justice now refuses to acknowledge, even as the FDA’s latest dietary recommendations make clear.
But look at the biggest one on the bottle, just below “liver disease.” Disinhibition? WTF? Since when is loosening up and not being such a tight-ass a disease that not only rivals brain damage, but given its prominent position on the bottle and the size of the type, appears to be one of the worst problems they associate with drinking. How many mental issues and how much stress is relieved by the occasional drink after work or with dinner, bringing about a “loss or reduction of an inhibition,” which is the Merriam-Webster definition of disinhibition. How is letting one’s hair down, so to speak, something to be feared and avoided? Given the company it’s keeping on their bottle of harms, it certainly seems clear that they regard it as a disease. I continue to marvel at the new and inventive ways that prohibitionists can try to pass judgement and make those of us actually “living” our lives feel guilty for enjoying ourselves.
Depending on your perspective, there’s good and bad news for women who love beer. Yesterday, Marketwatch casually mentioned that “SAB Miller, the world’s second largest brewer, is testing a new line of lighter and sweeter beers. Executives are also planning new ad campaigns geared towards women.” Other CBS affiliates, such as WREG Memphis, picked up the story but added little, apart from saying the new line will be “brewed especially for the ladies.” That’s all the information there is, so far, not even the SABMiller website has any additional information or a press release, at least not yet.
But if you’re one of those of the female persuasion that can be reduced to the stereotype of only liking sweet flavors, and don’t mind being pandered to, this just may be the beer for you. But if you’re a real person, like pretty much every beer lover I know who also happens to be a woman, this is probably just going to piss you off. I honestly don’t understand why the big beer companies keep trying this. Has it ever worked, anywhere in the world? People who understand and can appreciate the complex flavors of a good beer, will like it, irrespective of their reproductive organs. So just make good beer, educate your customers about it, and beer lovers — male and female — will drink it. Why is that so hard?
As so often happens, while searching around for something in particular, I stumble on something else interesting. Today I found an article from 2011 on AdAge entitled Bottom’s Up! A Look at America’s Drinking Habits. As of 2010 (or maybe it’s 2005), on a per capita basis, more American drink soda than any other liquid. Water is second (it’s sad it’s not first) and beer is third, with milk a close fourth. Wine is only ninth, despite those obnoxious annual polls that try to convince people wine’s more popular than beer, and spirits is tied for tenth with value-added water, whatever that means (presumably with vitamins or oxygenated?). Worldwide, water is first, while Tea, only seventh in America, is second. While certain people complain about beer drinkers here, I find it far more worrisome that more people drink soda than water. Frankly, soda is far more unhealthy to drink than beer.
It’s not sure what to make of some news that’s being reported based on a new report by the Alcohol Research Group of Emeryville, California. Several news outlets have picked up the story, including the San Francisco Chronicle, in Sobering tip – drink makers alter alcohol content; Join Together, in Drinks Often Contain More Alcohol Than People Realize; and Health magazine, in How Much Alcohol In Your Drink? Stronger Beverages Make It Tough to Tell.
The first curiosity is some articles say the report was done by the Public Health Institute’s Alcohol Research Group while others claim it was the National Alcohol Beverage Control Association. Curiouser still is the fact that neither organization has any information I can find about the alleged report, which is odd since the news reports quote people involved in it and from it. It’s not uncommon for only a summary to be available, especially if they’re trying to sell it to people, but I can’t even find any reference to it at all. It’s also fairly common for there to be a press release summarizing the report, but I can’t locate one of those, either. The NABCA in their news section has a link to a report on their report on Health24, the same syndicated article by Brenda Goodman that many news outlets are using. You’d think they’d at least have their own story about their own report.
Although the articles concern themselves with this new report, not one of them even mentions its name, although they each quote the report’s author, William Kerr, who’s billed as “a senior scientist with the Alcohol Research Group.” Scientist seems like a stretch, since his background is not in the hard sciences, having a BA and a PhD, both in economics. Now I have nothing against economics whatsoever, in fact I love the dismal science, and am fascinated by it. I know it’s a social science, a concept I fully accept, but when’s the last time you ever heard an economist referred to as a scientist, or even a social scientist? Having the title “senior scientist” strikes me as just a tad misleading, or is that just me?
Anyway, the point of the report, from what I can piece together, is that the standard drink sizes that are generally used determine as a single drink (mind you, for purposes of research and making people feel guilty, not for our real lives) are not as effective as they once were, because the alcoholic strength of beer and wine varies, and many people are too stupid to realize that. It honestly strikes me as a tempest in a teacup at the very least, and an attempt to fan the flames of anti-alcohol mischief at worst.
Here’s how one of the articles begins. “Thanks to rising alcohol levels in wine and beer, the drinks served in bars and restaurants are often more potent than people realize, a new report shows.” Seriously, just now rising? I know there are perhaps more higher strength beers than before the 1980s, when most beer was all the same, and certainly since craft beer is getting more popular arguably more of it’s being sold, but it’s still a drop in the ocean of the 5% beer majority. And really, is wine getting stronger? The report’s author, William Kerr, is quoted, saying “A lot of the wines now are 14 percent or even 15 percent commonly, and the standard 5-ounce glass of wine doesn’t apply to that level.” Um, as long as I can remember 14% has been the average wine strength. Seriously, if you had asked me how strong wine typically is, that would have been my immediate response. Of course, I’m no wine expert, by any stretch of the imagination, so I’ll defer to my wine brethren on that one. A Guardian article from 2011 reveals that it’s closer to 13% worldwide and 13.65% in the “New World,” by which I assume they mean us upstarts in the colonies. But if the averages are higher than what the “guidelines” are based on, wouldn’t it make more sense to argue for changing them, instead of complaining that people aren’t converting them properly? If they’re really concerned that people are drinking too much because of their own information, then changing it seems a more obvious solution to me.
Here’s another one I don’t quite understand. “Beer drinkers may find themselves in the same boat. A 12-ounce bottle of Bud Light beer has 4.2 percent alcohol, but the same-size bottle of Bud Light Platinum has 6 percent alcohol by volume, a nearly 50 percent increase.” I know math is hard, but that seems to skew the numbers to stretch a point. A 4.2% beer would contain .0504 ounces of alcohol, while at 6 percent, the amount would be 0.72. While ordinary rounding you could argue might make sense in other contexts, when you’re talking about such small numbers, the effect of rounding is inflating by one-half a percent (0.5%), not an inconsequential amount when the difference between the two examples is only 1.8%. That seems designed to make that example seem worse than it really is.
They also mention that it “matters whether you’re drinking a standard 12-ounce bottle, or downing draft beer in pints, which are 16 ounces each.” And that’s partly true, it does make a difference, but most good beer bars don’t serve higher alcohol beers in pint glasses, but in a smaller glass that’s less than that.
The Chronicle’s report claims that “craft beers and European imported beers usually have alcohol content a few percentage points higher than major American beers.” Some, sure, but their point is that beer strength varies widely, but then they give this absurd generality that’s not remotely true.
Also in the Chronicle, Kerr tells us that “Federal law requires hard alcohol manufacturers to list the alcohol content by volume on labels, but it’s optional for beer and most wines.” Actually, it’s the states that determine that, and in California it is indeed required on the label. Given that Kerr is in California, and the article was written by and for a California audience, that seems like it could have been useful information. It’s not optional here, nor do I believe that’s the case for any other state.
One thing I do agree with is the statement by Robert Pandina, director of the Rutgers Center of Alcohol Studies, who posits that the “dietary guidelines aren’t very useful. They don’t parallel the drinking habits of the American public.” So why we keep using them, I think, has more to do with people involved in the addiction business and anti-alcohol groups, then wanting to honestly come up with something that most people can actually use. Tellingly, Pandina is not part of the report that’s the subject of the articles.
The overall tone of the advice from the report, at least as gleaned from the quotes from it, is that people should be ridiculously fastidious in monitoring their intake of alcohol. But the guidelines are not that exact, nor should they be. The UK’s recommended amounts in fact were simply made up, while ours were more likely based on average drink sizes from once upon a time, and became fixed in stone along the same lines as binge drinking became increasingly narrowly defined. This, I can only guess, is the result of working with or around people with drinking problems. Most of us can manage to drink responsibly and moderately without a measuring cup or journal. If the majority of people who drink alcohol are not problem drinkers, which is the case, then being sensible doesn’t require a calculator. Most people know their limits and can, and do, moderate their own behavior and probably do so intuitively, having learned their own limits. I know mine, don’t you?
The headline that the “alcohol content of beer and wine varies widely” seems almost insulting in its assumption that most people think it’s all the same. I may not be among the average drinkers, but the news that different drinks have varying strengths seems too obvious, especially when you consider that the usual argument for not listing strength is that everyone will start shopping the labels and buy the strongest drinks to get drunk faster. So on one hand, us drinkers are smart enough to game the system by reading the labels to get drunk quicker, yet we’re too stupid to realize that different drinks have different amounts of alcohol in them. How many people honestly still believe that all beer is the same in 2013? Maybe it’s just the air of superiority that the prohibitionists and parts of the medical community adopt when they talk down to us in the world that continues to rankle. But I’ll sleep better tonight in the knowledge that by drinking moderately and responsibly, I’ll most likely live longer than the teetotalers who look down upon me and my ilk.
Ah, it’s October again, Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and right on cue, it’s time to be insulted once more by the anti-alcohol bunch that can’t let any good deed go unpunished. This time around it’s Alcohol Justice — boy, have they been busy lately — who’s telling us how hypocritical we are for wanting to do anything to support the quest to find a cure for breast cancer. Alcohol Justice calls any such efforts a “mockery of public health, breast cancer advocacy, and alcohol policy,” and most importantly, a “mockery of breast cancer survivors and their loved ones.” Well, given that I lost my own mother to breast cancer and I love the fact that so many breweries, many of whom are my friends, take the time and effort to raise money for that cause, I have only two words for Alcohol Justice: “fuck you.”
You don’t get to decide how people spend their money, where they make their charitable donations or how. In the example highlighted in “If It Makes You Wealthy: Sheryl Crow & Treasury Wine Estates Sell Out Women’s Health,” the promotion they’re objecting to is a large wine conglomerate raising money for breast cancer research with Sheryl Crow’s support and participation, something that was announced this past July. Crow herself is a breast cancer survivor so they’re really thumbing their nose at her, too. If a cancer survivor chooses to try and do some good to raise money for a cause she feels personally invested in, it’s pretty shameless of you to try to grab headlines by calling her names and publicly telling her not to support that cause unless she does it the way they think it should be done.
They also take issue with Crow because the promotion is promising to “donate up to $100,000 to breast cancer charities,” an amount that Alcohol Justice derisively has decided is not nearly enough. I guess their first choice would be for her not to raise any money for breast cancer, but if she does, it had better be a large enough amount to satisfy them. They’re taking this page out of the playbook of Breast Cancer Action, who a few years ago declared that everyone of us in the alcohol industry trying to do good, and raise money for breast cancer, should be “ashamed of ourselves.” I wrote about that when they went on television and insulted us, in Biting the Hand That Feeds You.
In the paragraph before Alcohol Justice calls me, and the rest of us in the alcohol industry who care about breast cancer, a mockery, they claim that “[p]romoting alcohol as a healthy product is a harmful public relations tactic,” and suggest that the problem is “cancer advocate Crow is applying her considerable celebrity capital to increase sales of a product that contributes to the incidence of breast cancer in women.” The study they cite is from 2011, Moderate alcohol consumption during adult life, drinking patterns, and breast cancer risk, which did indeed conclude that “[l]ow levels of alcohol consumption were associated with a small increase in breast cancer risk,” which other studies have also shown, but that’s not the entire story, of course. One thing these incidents tend to have in common is relying on just one particular study as the foundation for why we in the alcohol industry should be feeling guilty for trying to help raise awareness or money for breast cancer. But what about the bigger picture? Here’s what I wrote about this three years ago.
[A]t least one [study] done by Kaiser Permanente shows that it’s the amount that matters, the higher the intake the greater the risk, meaning moderate drinking has less risk.
Still others show just the opposite. For example, a 2008 study at the Universidade do Porto, Porto, Portugal showed that Compounds in Beer and Wine Slow Breast Cancer Cell Growth. Still another suggests that “xanthohumol found in hops [has] the potential to lower the risk of prostate cancer, [and] researchers believe it could also reduce breast cancer risk in a similar manner — by binding to the receptors on breast cancer cells and blocking the effects of estrogen which stimulates the growth of certain types of breast cancer.” That’s about the discovery that xanthohumol, a Cancer-fighting agent found in beer.
In a fact sheet about the relationship between Alcohol and the Risk of Breast Cancer at Cornell University, there’s this sage advice:
Researchers have reported that women who consume light to moderate amounts of alcohol have a decreased risk of developing and dying from cardiovascular disease. Since more women are affected by and may die from cardiovascular diseases than breast cancer, the recommendations regarding alcohol and breast cancer may seem to contradict the reports regarding cardiovascular disease. The 1996 Guidelines on Diet, Nutrition and Cancer Prevention from the American Cancer Society suggest that most adults can drink, but they should limit their intake. Given the complex relationship between alcohol consumption and different diseases, any recommendations should be based on information about all health risks and benefits.
Exactly. Of course women should make individual decisions based upon their family history and/or other personal factors, but making a pronouncement for everyone is wrong. The overall positive effects of moderate alcohol consumption have to be weighed against individual risk factors. For example, total mortality is effected positively by moderate alcohol consumption, that is numerous studies and meta-studies have shown that people who drink in moderation will most likely live longer than people who abstain completely or who regularly binge drink. And that’s taking into account both the negative and positive risks and rewards.
So once again Alcohol Justice is bending the truth for their own purposes, and making the world black and white, in which it’s their way or the highway. They know best. You don’t have to worry about thinking for yourself, not when they can do the thinking for you. I love that they refer to the wine company as “posing as a health advocate,” as if anyone is “anti-health.” As if the people, and yes those of us in the alcohol industry are indeed people, even if Alcohol Justice paints us as less than human, wanted people to get breast cancer. Even if it were true that everyone who drank alcohol would get cancer (it’s not) why would anyone object to us donating money to finding a cure for it or helping to build awareness? So many people’s lives have been touched by cancer generally, and breast cancer in specific, but the way Alcohol Justice frames it, none of us should have anything to do with alcohol, or we’re mocking our loved ones. How many other professions or industries would they want to ban people from engaging in if they might result a potential danger. Should people who work for gun companies be ashamed of themselves because others may use a gun in a crime or to murder someone? Should fast food workers feel guilty because the people who buy their food might be eating the wrong kinds of food, leading to health problems, obesity and disease, and might place a burden on the healthcare system. Do you know what the ultimate cause of death is? Living. As R.D. Laing quipped. “Life is a sexually transmitted disease and the mortality rate is one hundred percent.” We all make choices about how we use the time that’s afforded each of us. And Alcohol Justice can jump down off their high horse and stop telling the rest of how to live our lives. That would certainly improve the time I have left on this world, so I can get back to enjoying myself with a good beer.