More Beer At Starbucks: Let The Whining Begin

starbucks
Several times I’ve seen the anti-alcohol wingnuts claim that alcohol is the most addictive substance on the planet, typing that as they sip their morning coffee and dip their doughnut into it. I’m pretty sure worldwide, and certainly in this country, many more people are addicted to caffeine and sugar than alcohol.

A few years ago, Starbucks tested selling beer in the evenings at one of their locations in Seattle. It must have went well, because they quietly expanded the test to 26 Starbucks locations, and then 40. Recently, however, they announced via Bloomberg and the USA Today that Starbucks would expand what they call “Evenings Stores” to many more locations. No exact figure has been released, but there are over 20,000 Starbucks worldwide, with around 11,500 (or 13,000, depending on the source) in the U.S., and so far they’ll only be adding “Evening Stores” in America, selling only beer and wine, not spirits.

You have to figure most sales of caffeine are in the morning or earlier in the day, at least, when people need that pick-me-up. As the sun moves farther west toward its daily sunset, less and less people want caffeine, for the obvious reason that it will keep them up at night. There are, of course, people who work different shifts and who therefore will be exceptions, but by and large caffeine — coffee and tea — is a daytime drink. So it makes sense that when sales inevitably and predictably fall at night that Starbucks, any company really, would be looking for something to keep sales flowing when their core product ebbs. They already have a comfortable infrastructure where people come and sit for hours, so why not extend that at night, with beer or wine instead of coffee or tea?

starbucks-beer

But, not surprisingly, delight over the prospect of Starbucks selling beer and wine is not universal. The Sheriff of Notinmyworld, Alcohol Justice, as usual thinks anything they don’t like is a “bad idea.” They tweeted as much, saying “Bad idea Starbucks,” along with a link to an opinion piece in the Washington Post by Greg Williams, “who has been in recovery from alcohol and drug use for more than 12 years.” Williams is also a filmmaker, and is promoting his documentary film The Anonymous People which appears to be at least in part about traditional recovery stories, i.e. ones using the 12-step or AA model. As I’ve written numerous times, that’s the sacrosanct abstinence method that most Americans, and most of the medical community who makes money off of addicts, believe is the only way to treat addiction, despite a mountain of evidence to the contrary.

So what is Williams’ problem with Starbucks selling beer and wine? It’s all in the headline. By serving alcohol, Starbucks risks losing key customers: people in recovery. Yup, you read that right. If a coffee shop sells alcohol, then alcoholics and other addicts won’t be able to go there. Because nothing signals recovery better than the inability to be in the same building as alcohol. Never mind that alcohol is sold, in most of the civilized world, in grocery stores, convenience stores, gas stations, virtually every restaurant, sports venue, and countless other places. Whew, that’s a long list of places that people in recovery can’t go. I guess they might as well move to an Islamic country or some other place where alcohol is illegal to be really sure.

Every day, people in recovery meet up in Starbucks cafes to support one another, to talk to their 12-step sponsors and, most of all, to be welcomed in one of the few lively, popular, alcohol-free gathering places in their community.

I understand that they might be afraid of backsliding and ordering a beer if it’s offered on the menu, but alcohol is available to adults in countless other places, and yet most AA members have somehow managed to safely navigate the world. I certainly haven’t heard of there not being enough safe places for them to go before now. But even in an alcohol-friendly venue, in a meeting setting, with their support network in place to help them, that really shouldn’t be an issue, should it? Not to mention, in my view, you’re not really anywhere close to a cure if you can’t sit in a coffee shop and not order something you shouldn’t, especially when you’ll face the same issue in every restaurant, grocery store, etc. you set foot in. But with the next sentence it turns weirder.

Starbucks should pay special attention to them.

Huh?!? Why? That reminds me of those annoying “Baby On Board” signs suggesting that I have to drive extra careful when I’m near a car with a baby in it. We all live in the same world. Either figure out how to survive in it, or get the hell out. We all have the same responsibility to one another as a member of society. People who can’t handle themselves should not be entitled to special treatment. The world doesn’t owe you “special attention” because you’re incapable of acting responsibly, usually of your own making.

I know that sounds cold or callous, but it’s not meant to. I’ve known plenty of alcoholics and addicts in my life. But you can’t let them determine how you act, or how society as a whole acts, without making society a different and altogether worse place. I’m sorry you’re struggling with your own demons, but making me act differently whenever you’re around is dragging me, and everybody else, down with you. You have to stand up, on your own terms, and without our having to bend down to meet you. Otherwise, it’s not really a cure, is it?

Williams notes that the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research “found that 88.5 percent of those studied who were in recovery from alcoholism drank coffee. Thirty-three percent of those coffee drinkers drank more than four cups a day.” (I can’t help but see that as a sign that AA members are trading in one addiction for a more socially acceptable one, but that’s another story.) Based on that factoid, he’s extrapolated that to mean that many of Starbucks’ patrons must be alcoholics, too. Maybe some are, but then again, perhaps not. There’s no causation shown by the statistic in the study and the fact that Starbucks sells coffee. Williams, in concluding, suggests that if “executives studied this market demographic, perhaps they would think twice about this move.”

Hmm, let’s see. “Starbucks is the largest coffeehouse company in the world, with 20,891 stores in 64 countries, including 13,279 in the United States, 1,324 in Canada, 989 in Japan, 851 in China and 806 in the United Kingdom.” Their revenue was nearly $15 billion, with a “b,” last year, and they had a net income of $8.8 million and assets totally more than $11.5 billion. But he thinks Starbucks didn’t analyze their demographics before making this decision? They tested the concept for four years, in different metropolitan markets, before announcing they were planning on rolling it out to more locations, and would do so slowly over the next several years. But he thinks they acted rashly, without thinking it through?

Industry analysts, such as Mintel and Beverage Daily, seem to think the move will be a good one for Starbucks, especially if they focus on local craft brands, as current rumors suggest they will. Alcohol Justice and Williams’ “people in recovery” may now have to buy their coffee elsewhere, but I’ll be very surprised if enough to make a dent in the coffee giant’s marketshare actually do stop buying at Starbucks.

starbucks-beer-3

As You Watch The Big Game Sunday, Ignore This

pinocchio
Never one to pass up an opportunity to proselytize, Alcohol Justice’s annual Superb Owl press release, Big Alcohol’s Big Game Plan is another excellent example of hypocrisy in action. What does Big Alcohol’s “game plan” consist of? Why patent lies, of course, that is completely obvious lies. We’re always lying, apparently, whereas the Watchdog Sheriff of Alcohol always tells the truth.

Our main lie, this time, is that the alcohol industry maintains “that there is no evidence that exposure to alcohol ads encourages underage consumption or harmful over-consumption among adults.” Of course, there is an annual report that has for years shown that advertising is the least influential factor for underage drinking, and has been dropping since they started doing the survey in 1991. According to GfK Roper Youth Report Examines Influences on Youth Decisions about Drinking, advertising accounts for 1% of youth drinking influence. So while I don’t think anyone is arguing advertising has no influence over anything, it’s very small, and kids see ads for things adults buy all the time for the simple reason that they’re in the world. I saw beer ads as a kid. I also saw cigarette ads, and yet I’ve never smoked them.

As for adults, alcohol is legal, advertising is legal, if people over-consume it that’s their business. Why can’t people use the occasion of one of the biggest sporting events of the year to relax and celebrate, sharing a few beers with friends and family? As long as they’re not doing something illegal or obnoxious, that should be nobody’s business. This is certainly a topic for debate, the amount of influence, etc. but as I’ve written before, as long as AJ keeps calling everyone in the alcohol industry a liar, any meaningful dialogue seems fairly inconceivable, but then I don’t think they have any interest in actually having a discussion or finding any workable solutions. They just want to bash the industry and collect donations because they think we account for all the evil in the world.

But the most interesting part of this particular propaganda piece is the section entitled “As You Watch The Big Game Sunday, Think About This.” Here’s the first thing they want us to think about:

Driven by Big Alcohol advertising, branding, sponsorship and celebrity endorsements, America consumes an estimated 325 million gallons of beer on the day of the big game, so alcohol-related harm is inevitable.

325 million gallons? There are approximately 314 million people in the U.S. That means every man, woman and child drinks 1.035 gallons of beer, or about 11 12-oz. bottles of beer in four hours, a figure that represents 5% of total annual beer production. Does that sound even remotely reasonable? That figure fooled me last year when a website listed it and I re-posted it. But I later took a closer look at it and discovered that it came from — shock — Alcohol Justice, who as far as I could tell just made it up. Because as I wrote in Hoodwinked By Propaganda, that number just doesn’t add up. A more reliable figure is around 50 million cases of beer are purchased for the Sunday of the game, probably not all on that day, but in the week leading up to it. That’s around 112.5 million gallons, or roughly one-third of AJ’s number. Talk about inflation. And that’s purchased, not all of that beer is consumed that one day, either.

And “inevitable?” “Alcohol-related harm is inevitable?” Remember that the amount AJ insists is consumed is wrong, a patent lie. But regardless of the amount, whenever people drink it’s not inevitable that harm will follow. It’s not even likely. I’ve consumed my fare share of beer during, well, every single Super Bowl since around 1980. Guess how many times I’ve experienced the supposedly inevitable alcohol-related harm? That would be a grand total of zero times. Will some people act stupidly and make fools of themselves? Of course they will. But that has more to do with the law of large numbers than alcohol. But if 1,000 people drink and one person does something stupid, does that invalidate the other 999? Apparently in AJ’s mind it does, they seem to find anything short of perfection unacceptable. But I’d like to know what other human pursuit is held to such a standard. Certainly gun-related accidents account for some of the annual death toll in America. But I don’t see anyone rushing to ban all guns until we achieve perfection in gun safety. It’s absurd to think that accidents or stupidly won’t happen, if for no other reason than we’re imperfect, fallible humans. But it’s even more absurd to think that any attempts to stop all of them, usually by punishing the majority of people who are blameless and have done nothing wrong, can ever be 100% effective, or frankly even marginally effective.

“It is estimated that about 20 to 30 million kids will tune in to watch [the Super Bowl] on TV and online. As usual, they will be saturated once again with seductive beer ads.”

Saturated? Saturated is defined as “completely filled with something.” Anheuser-Busch InBev is running five spots during the game, for a grand total of four minutes. According to AdAge’s list of Super Bowl advertisers, MillerCoors won’t have any ads in this year’s broadcast. The Super Bowl is scheduled to be aired over four hours, or 240 minutes. Kids, if they’re even paying attention, will see at most four minutes of beer advertisements in four hours. That’s 1.66% of the game’s broadcast time. So the beer industry is a bunch of liars, but 4 minutes out of 4 hours is saturation. That’s what passes for truthfulness?

Two of smartest [sic], most popular TV personalities in the country also believe that there’s something wrong with mixing alcohol and sports. Jon Stewart on “The Daily Show” recently skewered booze-swilling pot critics http://bit.ly/1c0evqa and questioned excessive beer ads on TV sports. While Steven Colbert on “The Colbert Report” commented on lucrative NFL sponsorships and Peyton Manning’s recent “shout-out” for Bud Light http://bit.ly/1dBo0kz “What’s weighing on my mind is how soon I can get a Bud Light in my mouth after this win. That’s priority number 1,” stated Manning.

You do understand that those are comedy shows? They’re not hard news. I love both Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert’s shows, but they mine the news for comedy gold, and make fun of it wherever they find it. They’re really good at it, so good in fact that you thought they were seriously taking your side and promoting your position? Wow, how sad.

Alcohol ads, sponsorships, and celebrity endorsements associated with sports are disturbing not just because they are designed to lure young people to take that first drink but because as Kerry O’Brien said “…they also
cleverly create a culture where kids perceive alcohol consumption as a normal everyday part of life.

Designed to lure young people to take that first drink? Really? Can you honestly believe that celebrity endorsements only sway kids, that adults are immune to them and not their main target? Alcohol advertising is aimed squarely at adults, the people legally allowed to purchase and consume it. That’s who they’re designed to “lure.” You do understand that the purpose of advertising is to produce a result, like when you run ads endlessly begging for donations. It would be completely bad economics to target persons who are prohibited from buying the advertised products and, in most cases, have little or no money to buy them.

Alcohol consumption as a normal everyday part of life? There’s nothing clever about that, alcohol consumption is perfectly legal, and apart from those surreally ineffective thirteen years last century, it always has been. It is a normal part of everyday life. AJ may not like that fact, but that changes nothing. It’s not clever, creative advertising that give people that perception that “alcohol consumption [is] a normal everyday part of life,” it’s reality.

What I continue to find incredibly insulting about AJ’s propaganda is their insistence that they’re the honest ones and we’re all a bunch of liars. And yet they take huge liberties with the truth constantly. But what’s also annoying is the idea that adults can’t do anything adult if there are children present. Seeing a beer ad during a football game with adults present, to explain the context, etc., is exactly how they should see them. AJ seems worried that 20 to 30 million kids will watch the Super Bowl, but I have to question that figure, too. The most Americans who watched the Super Bowl was 111.3 million people for the 2011 contest, with 111 million the year before. Even at 20 million, that would mean about 18% of viewers were children, or almost 1 in 5. At 30 million, it would be 27%, just over one-quarter of viewers. Nielsen puts the percentage of kids at 16% or around 18 million.

But does the number really matter that much? These kids will undoubtedly be with their families. I doubt many, or any, of them will be watching the Super Bowl by themselves. You’d think that any event that brings families together would be something to celebrate: families spending time together is good thing, isn’t it? But apparently that’s not how AJ sees it. So I have to ask: what would AJ prefer? Should the kids be sent away? Should society set up day camps all over the country where kids can be sent to so they can be shielded from seeing those four minutes worth of beer ads during the game? Separated from their families for an adults-only game? Maybe they think that having kids means you no longer should be permitted to enjoy adult pursuits. Being a parent means giving up every aspect of your own life for your kids, the two worlds can never meet. That seems reasonable, doesn’t it?

Or would they prefer we just do away with all sporting events entirely, instead having us all stay home and play Chutes and Ladders or Candyland until our kids go off to college or are on their own, no longer living at home. At that point, and that point only, will it be safe once more to turn on the TV set and watch a football game. Seriously, what exactly would satisfy Alcohol Justice? What is their goal here? What would a reasonable outcome that satisfies their fanaticism look like? We know they want all alcohol advertising removed from sports. But adults can, and do, enjoy a beer while watching sports. It’s still legal, despite the prohibitionists efforts to limit it as much as possible. And while kids do watch sports, it’s adults who constitute the vast majority of its audience. Is it really reasonable to ban something perfectly legal for a majority of the population because kids can see it. The strategy is that by saying that the alcohol is causing harm, it should be banned the same way we banned tobacco ads and smoking in most public places. But smoke was uncontrollable and could do actual harm. Alcohol doesn’t do any harm, it’s action neutral. People abusing it might, but that’s entirely different. Unless you’re blinded by ideology, you get that some people can abuse alcohol but most people don’t. The outcome is up to the individual, so that’s the variable; it’s not the alcohol that’s doing any harm, no more so than too much red meat can effect your heart or too much sugar can rot your teeth.

We can’t, and shouldn’t, create two separate worlds where one is adults only, a place where we can’t take the kids … ever, and a separate kid’s world where kids are forever sheltered from the adult world until that magic day when they turn eighteen and we throw them into the deep end to fend for themselves, completely unprepared. Actually, we’ll need three worlds. We’ll need an extra, separate adult world that still is void of alcohol, since adults ages 18-20 aren’t allowed to drink yet. Because nothing less will satisfy Alcohol Justice. It doesn’t matter that it’s utterly unrealistic.

So watch the Super Bowl tomorrow, if you want. Ignore all of this. Have a good time, with your wife/husband and kids, if you have any, along with any other family and friends you wish. Enjoy a beer or two, or more. You’re an adult, do what the hell you want.

drink-beer-and-watch-football

UPDATE: OMG Facts tweeted during the Super Bowl that the average American drinks 4 beers over the course of the day of the game. That figure works out to be 117,750,000 gallons, just over one-third (36%) of the 325 million figure that Alcohol Justice is spreading in their propaganda. Seeming more and more like a patent lie to me all the time.

What A Surprise! Prohibitionists Hate Beer-Flavored Jelly Beans

jelly-belly
Hilarious. I saw this one coming. The prohibitionists — who my friend and colleague Harry Schuhmacher calls the “no fun bunch” — are already expressing their outrage that there’s a jelly bean with beer flavor. Alcohol Justice (AJ) took to Twitter today to voice their disapproval, even using the photograph distributed by Jelly Belly in their press release.

AJ-jelly-belly-tweet

But let’s look at their nature of their outrage. First there’s this sarcastic sentence.

Kids really need beer-flavored jelly beans.

They do the same thing any time there’s a drawing or cartoon on a beer label. They make the very wrong assumption that only kids like candy. Or that jelly beans are just for kids. I think former president Ronald Reagan would take issue with that. Reagan famously loved jelly beans and jars of them were all over the white house during his two terms. I think it’s fairly safe to assume that plenty of very serious people and politicians ate jelly beans then, and continue to do so.

C315-2

Could we please dispense with the notion that if children like something, that adults can’t (and vice versa), or that there can’t be adult versions of things that kids like, too? It frankly is absurd and surely they could come up with a better argument.

The company Jelly Belly has for decades made cocktail-flavored jelly beans. “The company first created a non-alcoholic gourmet flavor in 1977 with Mai Tai. Since then, more flavors from Blackberry Brandy to Strawberry Daiquiri were developed, inspired by popular cocktails. Over the years, favorite flavors like Piña Colada (1983), Margarita (1995) and Mojito (2010) have helped carve out the Jelly Belly Cocktail Classics® collection of six cocktail flavors.” Yet as fas as I know, this is the first whining by AJ over alcoholic flavored jelly beans. And it should also be noted that not one of these, the beer bean included, have any actual alcohol whatsoever in them. But none of us who have made it past age 21 should be allowed to enjoy any of those on the off chance that a child might eat one, or even want to eat one. Oh, the horror! What utter nonsense. If you don’t want your kids to eat the nonalcoholic jelly bean with a whiff of some of the same flavors as a hefeweizen, I think I see a way out. Don’t buy them, and don’t let them buy them either. Maybe you could just lock up your kids until they’re old enough to navigate the world on their own. I’m sure that wouldn’t be bad for them. You should definitely keep them as sheltered as possible from anything that’s of the adult world so they’ll be prepared to be adults themselves. What could go wrong? But here’s AJ’s insightful conclusion:

So very wrong.

Why? Seriously, why? What the fuck is wrong with there being adult-oriented flavors of jelly beans for adults (or children for that matter since there’s absolutely NO alcohol in them). Seriously, what is wrong with you? Can you really be afraid that it will give kids a taste for beer so they’ll want to try the real thing? Or that it “normalizes” the idea of drinking beer? Which is, may I remind you, still legal for adults 21 years and over, despite your best efforts. I’m sure there’s some perfectly logical reason why you hate this other than you just hate anything to do with alcohol. So what is it? Let me strap in. Go ahead. Why shouldn’t there be candy aimed at or made for adults? Why can’t there be nonalcoholic candy of any flavor, especially when there already has been other such flavors for decades? Why is it “so very wrong?”

Ivory Tower Thinking

ivory-tower-100
The proverbial ivory tower of academia, where some intellectuals live and work in an insulated world separate from the real world, was never more on display than in this “study” about which alcohol brands are mentioned most often in popular songs. Conducted by Boston University and Johns Hopkins, their survey of popular music, Alcohol Brand References in U.S. Popular Music, 2009–2011, was published in the December issue of the journal Substance Use & Misuse. The researchers looked at the Billboard charts in four music types — Urban, Pop, Country, and Rock. Here’s the abstract:

This study aimed to assess the prevalence and context of alcohol brand references in popular music. Billboard Magazine year-end charts from 2009 to 2011 were used to identify the most popular songs in four genres: Urban, Pop, Country, and Rock. Of the 720 songs, 23% included an alcohol mention, and 6.4% included an alcohol brand mention. Songs classified as Urban had the highest percentage of alcohol mentions and alcohol brand mentions. The context associated with alcohol brand mentions was almost uniformly positive or neutral. Public health efforts may be necessary to reduce youth exposure to these positive messages about alcohol use.

Because most journals require you to pay large sums to read them (or be an academic yourself), most of the information about this one comes from an article about the study, Music Artists Love to Sing About These 4 Alcohol Brands, which appeared on Futurity, a website covering “research news from top universities.” In it, the researchers reveal how out-of-touch they are with their subject. Of the more than one-thousand alcohol labels sold today, they noted, “only four brands show up often in the lyrics of popular songs.” Those four were Hennessy, Grey Goose, Jack Daniel’s and Patron; a cognac, vodka, tequila and whiskey. “They accounted for more than half of the alcohol brands named in songs from Billboard’s most popular song lists in 2009, 2010, and 2011.” Here’s the insights from one of the researchers.

“You would expect there would be hundreds of brands that are randomly mentioned,” says Michael Siegel, a professor of community health sciences at Boston University’s School of Public Health. “But we found that those top four accounted for 52 percent of all the brand mentions. That can’t be coincidental.”

hennesy

Are you sure?

Apparently, they also found that “alcohol use was portrayed as overwhelmingly positive in lyrics, with negative consequences almost never referred to.” I don’t think they listened to enough country music which, traditionally at least, was all about the consequences of drinking too much. But all kidding aside, why would a singer sing about any negative aspects of drinking? They’re not PSAs. The goal of pop music is to entertain, period. It’s not to educate or warn kids about the dangers of overindulging. They also seem worried because — gasp — kids also listen to the same music as adults, which the researchers found “alarming” because in their mind that meant the music was “promoting” drinking.

But after all that fretting, professor Michael Siegel admits that no “causal connection” was found between the music actual consumption, stating “further research is needed.” He also mentions that they also found that some of the artists — gasp — had sponsorship deals with some of the alcohol brands. To the researchers, that means that listeners are being marketed to, because in the ivory tower that simply has “to be recognized as marketing, not random chance.”

This so-called “study” examined (really, examined? They just listened to some music, didn’t they?) 720 songs. Of those, less than one-quarter (23.2%, or 167) mentioned alcohol. And just 6.4% (or 46 songs) dropped the name of a specific brand of alcohol, of which 51.6% mentioned one of the top four brands; Hennessy, Grey Goose, Jack Daniel’s and Patron. Of the four music genres they surveyed, alcohol was mentioned most often in “so-called urban songs (rap, hip-hop, and R&B, with 37.7 percent), followed by country (21.8 percent), and pop (14.9 percent).” They further discovered that “Tequila, cognac, vodka, and champagne brands appeared more prevalently in urban music (R&B, hip-hop, and rap), while whiskey and beer brands were more common in country or pop music. Surprisingly, there was no alcohol referred to in the rock-genre music examined.” Maybe that was Christian rock, because I can name more than a few rock and roll songs about beer alone, but maybe they’re not popular right now.

Is anyone not living in the clouds surprised by that? But let’s take a closer look at reality regarding these brands. Hennessey is hands down the best-selling brand of cognac in not just the U.S., but worldwide. Likewise, Grey Goose is the best-selling vodka. Jack Daniel’s is the best-selling American whiskey worldwide, too. At this point, you probably won’t be too shocked to learn that Patrón is the biggest selling ultra-premium tequila in the US. So when the researchers say it “can’t be coincidental” that “those top four accounted for 52 percent of all the brand mentions,” it’s not, but it’s not a conspiracy, either. They’re each the most popular brands of their type, which is the more logical reason why they’re the ones most often mentioned in songs. You don’t need a slide rule to figure that out.

As long ago as when I worked for BevMo, and saw sales figures for spirits on occasion, those were popular brands, especially among the same demographic as might listen to urban music. The brands were, and most likely still are, status symbols in some communities, which would also account for their popularity in song lyrics. That’s the reason these companies are looking for sponsorship opportunities with musicians and music events, not the other way around.

kayne-west

The researchers, showing just how biased their thinking is, claim that their concern over advertising stems from a belief that “[a]t least 14 long-term studies have found that exposure to alcohol marketing in the mass media increases the likelihood that young people will start drinking, or if already drinking, consume more.” And yet a recent GfK Roper Youth Report on the Influences on Youth Decisions about Drinking clearly shows that since at least 1991, advertising is at the very bottom of the reasons that influence kids to drink, age 13-20, accounting for just 1%, though for all media (defined as a including TV, radio, magazines, and Internet) it’s twice that, but of course that’s still only 2%. It’s hardly the scourge that the prohibitionists continue to insist it is.

It’s hard to see this as anything more than researchers out of touch with the real world of music or alcohol, making pronouncements from their ivory tower without really understanding the context of what they’re commenting on, mis-analyzing the results as a consequence. For example, professor Siegel suggests that “[o]ne intervention would be to teach young people ‘media literacy skills’ that would educate them about marketing techniques.” That’s rich, considering most young people are probably far more media savvy than the average college professor.

But beyond that, the idea that music made by and for adults, but also listened to by children, is rarely, if ever, the danger it’s believed to be. Or that adults singing about adult situations, in this case alcohol, for adults to listen to should not be permitted to do so on the off-chance that kids might hear it too. But that’s typical of the ridiculous lengths and logic to which the prohibitionists will go in promoting their agenda with junk science. This type of thinking suggests that they believe there should be two worlds, one that’s exclusively adult, walled off completely lest the kiddies be corrupted by seeing and hearing adult entertainment. That advertising is so often the bogeyman, despite it having so little actual influence, has more to do with the strategy that prohibitionists have employed since the day after prohibition was repealed. Every generation, they claim, is being corrupted and ruined by alcohol advertising. And yet, each generation seems to turn out just fine, don’t they? Those same youth from the previous generation grew up to become among the next generation of researchers claiming how this next group of kids will be ruined by being advertised to by alcohol companies, and each time they miss the irony that they, too, grew up seeing alcohol advertising, as well. Maybe it’s the air up in their ivory tower that makes them so forgetful, that along with being detached from reality. Can I assume Michael Bolton, Kenny G and Barry Manilow are playing on the radio?

Watchdog’s Department of Redundancy Department

watchdog-2
While I don’t think too much about what I post on Twitter, lots of companies do think about their Twitter frequency, content, timing, etc. How much is the right amount? How much is too much? Organizations should, and usually do, give this careful consideration. Last year, Track Social conducted a study to determine the sweet spot entitled Optimizing Twitter Engagement – Part 2: How Frequently to Tweet. They determined that 2-5 tweets per day is best to get a response from your followers. Less than that and they forget about you, more than that and they start to tune out. Looking at my own Twitterstream, I tend to tweet 4-6 times a day, usually no more than 10; though sometimes I tweet more when I’m traveling.

Lately, I’ve been noticing that I see an awful lot of tweets from the prohibitionists at Alcohol Justice, usually with a great deal of repetition. I started noticing that I keep seeing the same twitpic day after day, the same plea for money day after day and the same propaganda day after day. For example, recently I was annoyed by one of their tweets, and considered doing a post about it, but then changed my mind. But I noticed I saw it again, and then again, and then again today. It turns out they first tweeted the one below every single day since December 17, which was the first time, until today. That’s fourteen times in two weeks. Exactly the same every time, as below. They could change the wording, change it up, make it at least appear fresh, but nope, they just retweet it over and over again, as is.

aj-tweet-12-30

What originally annoyed me is that clicking on the link takes you to a story, Watchdog Group Slams Alcohol “Social Responsibility” Campaigns. The “watchdog” doing the slamming is none other than Alcohol Justice. So in effect, every day they’re saying hey, look at this information about what a watchdog group is saying as if it’s from an objective, unbiased source. But what they’re really saying is: “hey check out this study by us that we got someone else to post without questioning anything.” It feels dishonest at best. There’s nothing about it that’s not slimy and self-referential, more of the circle jerk of prohibitionist propaganda. They could have tweeted that there’s a story about their own study or something to the effect that here’s an article by one of our own, or at least own the information. But that would be honest, something the watchdog holding big alcohol accountable has a hard time doing themselves.

But as this sank in, I also noticed I’ve been seeing lots of repetition. Beating a dead horse seems to be part of the S.O.P., a policy decision. As far as the amount of tweets, looking at the last ten days, Alcohol Justice tweeted 369 times, not including RT’s. That’s an average of almost 37 tweets per day. As of 2:30 p.m. PST, they’ve tweeted 70 times today! That would push the average to nearly forty tweets per day.

Beyond the insane number, it’s the repetition that’s so amazing. There appears to be a calculated policy of tweeting the exact same tweets every day for weeks on end. Just seeing the same graphics tweeted every day makes that point. Take a cursory glance down their twitterstream and you’ll see the same photo and language over and over and over again. The graphic for this tweet is a bottle of Absolut in a rainbow pattern and the text “Absolut Pride,” making me wonder if perhaps they’re also subtly trying to appeal to homophobics, too. Otherwise, what was the point of choosing that particular ad to use in a post about social responsibility? Personally, I like this colorful neon beer bottle sign better. But then, I generally prefer beer.

bud-light-rainbow-bottle-neon-beer-sign_giant

And then there’s donations, pleas for which are seemingly never-ending. During the month of December, so far, they’ve asked followers for money 57 times, or an average of almost twice a day.

The amount of redundancy in the average day’s Twitter feed by Alcohol Justice reminds me of an old Monty Python bit with a government agency called the “Department of Redundancy Department.” Can their nearly 16,000 followers really welcome that much repetition in the information they’re sending out on a daily basis? Or can it be possible they think so little of those followers that they believe that they need to keep telling them the same things over and again in the hopes that it sinks in eventually?

The Taboo Of Public Drinking

public-drinking
Today’s infographic comes from a story in the HuffPo entitled The Secret History Of The War On Public Drinking, which includes some surprising details. For example, while I think most people believe that drinking in public has been illegal almost forever, ordinances banning public drinking didn’t start being enacted until around 1975. Only about 2% of Americans live in a place which allows public drinking, which is odd when you consider it’s perfectly legal unless a state, town or municipality decides to actively ban it. More backroom mischief by the prohibitionists is more like it. The map below shows where you can and can’t have a beer in your hand in a public place.

publicdrinkingmap
Click here to see the map full size.

Self-Fulfilling Prophecy Propaganda

ouroboros-dragon
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.”
thirst-aid
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.

ouroboros-dragon

Scotland Finds That Banning Multiple Purchases Doesn’t Stop Consumption

scotland
In order to stop people from overindulging, Scotland passed the Alcohol Act 2010 and it took effect in October 2011. One of the things it did was to ban “promotional tactics such as buy-one-get-one-free (BOGOFs)” along with other similar measures “because it was believed by some in the Scottish government that multi-buy promotions encouraged a greater consumption of alcohol.” Not surprisingly, the alcohol industry warned that such measure wouldn’t work.

Despite warnings by the drinks trade that legislating against certain retailing techniques would fail to address the root causes of alcohol misuse, Scotland went ahead with the multi-buy ban, requiring retailers with outlets across the UK to employ different selling techniques for alcohol in shops north of the Scottish border.

So the Department of Health Policy Research Programme (Policy Research Unit in Behaviour and Health) conducted a study to determine the effectiveness of the ban. The main findings were that they didn’t work — shock, surprise. “Controlling for general time trends and household heterogeneity, there was no significant effect of the multi-buy ban in Scotland on volume of alcohol purchased either for the whole population or for individual socio-economic groups.” In addition, there “was also no significant effect on those who were large pre-ban purchasers of alcohol.” Since “[m]ost multi-buys were for beer and cider or for wine,” people were simply forced to shop with greater frequency. “The frequency of shopping trips involving beer and cider purchases increased by 9.2% following the ban, while the number of products purchased on each trip decreased by 8.1%. For wine, however, these effects were not significant.”

Their conclusion was that “[b]anning multi-buy promotions for alcohol in Scotland did not reduce alcohol purchasing in the short term.” You’d think at this point that policymakers would realize that trying to stop people from buying as much alcohol at one time as they want would do nothing except inconvenience adult purchasers of products they’re legally entitled to buy and consume. As they discovered, what any person with common sense could have told them, prohibitions of almost any kind will not work. Responsible people will remain responsible no matter the situation they’re faced with and people predisposed to overindulge or abuse themselves with alcohol will find a way to do so. Didn’t thirteen years of Prohibition make that abundantly clear? Yet all this type of regulation accomplishes is to punish the law-abiding, responsible adults who want to enjoy a legal adult beverage. Prohibitionists keep placing hurdles in front of them in misguided belief that they’re helping society, when all they’re really doing is making life a little more difficult for everybody without actually solving the problem they’re claiming to be tackling.

Which is why even the folks who conducted this study can’t help themselves, when one of their conclusions is to suggest what’s needed is not a new or different approach. Instead, they fall back on the same old things that aren’t working. “Wider regulation of price promotion and price may be needed to achieve this.” Sure, keep throwing gasoline on the fire. That should fix it. As far as I can tell, it’s an institutional failure to be able to see the perceived problem in anything but the same old tropes. Because they sound good on paper, one presumes, they keep trying the same policies and keep arguing for the same old policy changes even though it’s demonstrated time and time again that they not only don’t work, but actually make life a little worse for a majority of people. Maybe it’s time we stopped listening to the prohibitionists? They obviously think nothing of punishing all of society in the mistaken belief that people will then drink less, even though it’s perfectly legal for adults to enjoy alcohol. They don’t care that a majority of people drink alcohol in moderation and responsibly, they’re all about throwing out the baby with the bathwater. It’s their modus operandi. But it’s not working.

scottish-beer-circle

Misleading With Headlines

pinocchio
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.

pinocchio-tells-a-lie

Since When Is Being Uninhibited A Disease?

bullshit
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.

bottle-harms-bs

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.