I tend to think that the U.S. has a lock on the provincial, puritanical thinking that forbids so many odd features of everyday life, often anything to do with sex, while at the same time allowing violence with nary a sideways glance. I’ve never understood that, but maybe that’s just me. Anyway, apparently Sweden is similarly off the deep end on sex, something I would never have expected. A Danish brewer, Amager Bryghus, created a series of seven beers based on the seven deadly sins, with a different beer, and label, for each. They call them the Sinners Series.
Take a look at the seven labels below and see if you can guess which one Sweden decided had to be censored?
If you answered Lust, you’re correct. Here’s what the label looks like outside of Sweden.
And here’s what it looks like inside Sweden.
According to The Local, an English-language news website covering Sweden, the problem was that “Danish beer bottles ‘too sexy’ for Sweden.” Like some U.S. states and Canadian provinces, Sweden has government-run liquor stores, and they make the decisions as to what’s acceptable.
Sweden’s state-run liquor retailer has decided that the picture on the Lust bottle, which contains a sweet Belgian ale with a 9.2 percent alcohol content, doesn’t abide by Sweden’s alcohol etiquette.
“We can’t accept the label, it’s against Sweden’s alcohol laws,” Systembolaget spokesman Lennart Agén told The Local.
“It’s quite a sexual label.”
As a result, Systembolaget has told the brewers to remove or edit the picture if the beer is to be sold in Sweden. The brewers responded by simply blacking out the entire label so neither the woman nor the bath is visible at all.
But it wasn’t an easy process, according to the brewers.
“We had to go through ten attempts before they’d accept it,” Henrik Papsø, head of communications at the brewery, told The Local.
Still, it seems awfully weird that a cartoon woman that’s only suggestive at best tripped up the censors. And I though we were prudes.
Regular bulletin readers know well my disdain for the hypocritical anti-alcohol organizations trying their damndest to remove all alcohol from society or, failing that, make everyone who makes, sells or enjoys alcohol as miserable as they are. Not surprisingly, at the recent Alcohol Policy 16 Conference, which took place in Arlington, Virginia in early April, they revealed just how far their hypocrisy extends yet again.
Angela Logomasini, who attended the conference on behalf of Wine Policy, noted that during a panel discussion on alcohol tax policy that the “entire discussion revolved around how to lobby for taxes and profit in the process.” Given that the subtitle of the entire conference was “Building Blocks for Sound Alcohol Policies,” she can be excused for believing that the discussion might involve “research related to the impact of taxes on alcohol abuse” or whether “higher taxes really reduce alcohol abuse.” Such reasonable topics, however, were not even discussed. Instead, as I said, the entirety of the talk “revolved around how to lobby for taxes and profit in the process.”
Logomasini continued her description of the panel discussion:
Rebecca Ramirez of the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins University presented her qualitative research on the framing of pro-tax messaging for use in lobbying campaigns. It included interviews with policymakers and activists involved in these campaigns. Ramirez’s discussion eventually turned to earmarking, which is apparently the key reason many groups are involved. Officials with one disability advocacy group, she noted, told her flat out they simply didn’t care about the public health impacts of taxes. They were in the game solely to get some of the tax revenue steered toward their organization.
She wonders aloud how that might serve the public good, and it appears she’s not the only one. Surprisingly enough, Bruce Lee Livingston, sheriff of my local anti-alcohol posse Alcohol Justice, disagrees, apparently believing profiting from lobbying efforts does not serve the public health. He takes a different view. Livingston “commented during the question and answer portion that activists are unable to get taxes high enough to actually produce positive public health benefits. Rather, he called for a ‘charge-for-harm’ approach, which is based on the assumption that anyone who drinks deserves to be punished.” That’s the same bullshit approach he took trying to get an additional tax on alcohol in San Francisco in 2010, all but writing the script for Supervisor John Avalos’ ultimately failed Alcohol Mitigation Fee Ordinance.
So, as Angela Logomasini observes, there were only two approaches or reasons to raise alcohol taxes brought up by essentially every neo-prohibitionist group in the country, or at least in attendance. As I’ve been ranting for years now, none of those reasons had anything to do with public health, or safety, or any other lofty goals. These self-proclaimed “public health advocates” only want to raise taxes on alcohol for two reasons: either to enrich themselves and profit from the alcohol companies their groups target or to punish every single person who dares to enjoy a pint of beer or glass of wine. And yet they still maintain non-profit status.
If nothing else, this should teach us that like many modern charitable organizations, they’ve strayed very far from their original purpose and self-preservation and profit are their only motives now. As I’ve said many, many times, they need a reason to exist and so they keep reinventing themselves in order to survive and keep their — in the parlance of Mel Brooks’ Blazing Saddles — phony baloney jobs. And so raising money becomes the driving force, not any interest in bettering the world, instead just pandering to their members’ fears, paranoia and prejudices. And if all of us who enjoy beer, and drink responsibly, get punished in the process, so what? Apparently, that’s just a bonus.
I’m not exactly sure why this is news at all. It’s part of a series of what I call “so what” or “duh” studies that the neo-prohibitionists use to promote their anti-alcohol agenda. Really, it can best be termed “joke science,” and frankly, even using the word science is giving it too much credit. It’s more “agenda science,” propaganda masquerading as science, where the conclusion comes before the “study,” and the results fit the agreed upon conclusion every time. This one’s from CAMY, the Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth, as anti-alcohol a group as you’re likely to encounter. Here’s what they did.
[R]esearchers at CAMY and the Boston University School of Public Health conducted an online survey of 1,032 youth ages 13 to 20. Participants were asked about their past 30-day consumption of 898 brands of alcohol among 16 alcoholic beverage types (are there really that many well-delineated types?). They answered questions about how often and how much of each brand they consumed. The study appears in Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research.
In a million years, you’ll never guess what they found out. Ready. Sitting down? They discovered that underage drinkers consume the same popular brands as most adults! Woo hoo, drop the balloons. What a surprise! Among the top ten brands reported, four were beers:
Bud Light (27.9%)
Coors Light (12.7%)
Corona Extra (11.3%)
Well, now let’s look at the top selling beer brands overall, as of Dec. 2, 2012:
Bud Light (+3.27%)
Coors Light (+6.18%
Miller Lite (+3.32%)
Natural Light (+2.07%)
Corona Extra (+5.08%)
And note that Coors Light showed a better than six-percent increase, while Budweiser slipped almost three percent, so when the survey was conducted they most likely lined up, one, two, three.
According to the press release. “Of the top 25 consumed brands, 12 were spirits brands (including four vodkas), nine were beers, and four were flavored alcohol beverages.” Since they haven’t released the full list, we only know the top four brands of beer.
So however much money and resources they spent on this, what they paid for bought them the news that what adults drink and what their kids are sneaking a drink of match up almost exactly. And while most thinking adults would look at these lists and just shake their heads, the anti-alcohol CAMY sees this as revealed wisdom.
“For the first time, we know what brands of alcoholic beverages underage youth in the U.S. are drinking,” said study author David Jernigan, PhD, CAMY director. “Importantly, this report paves the way for subsequent studies to explore the association between exposure to alcohol advertising and marketing efforts and drinking behavior in young people.”
Really? We finally know what kids are drinking, do we? Thank goodness somebody finally thought to ask them, by conducting a poll. And while most reasonable people might question what these results mean, CAMY immediately leaps to the conclusion that this proves an “association between exposure to alcohol advertising and marketing efforts and drinking behavior in young people.” Holy moley, can these people spin a yarn. Without any evidence of causation whatsoever, they declare these findings show there is an association. But all it reveals is that kids drink the same brands that their parents do, that they drink the beers they have access to (i.e., can pilfer from their parents’ stash or get an older brother to buy for them). Guess what I drank when I was unable to walk into a store and buy my own beer? Whatever I could get. Do they really think that underage kids are determining in advance what brands they decide they want to drink, and then do whatever’s necessary to insure that’s what they actually get? Pul-leeze. They’ll drink whatever they can get, and be happy about it. You can’t be too picky at that age. So it’s a good thing most teenagers haven’t yet developed a discerning palate, otherwise they’d be mightily disappointed on a regular basis.
Unfortunately, the danger with this sort of junk science is that it’s then used like real science to promote a particular agenda and change public policy. For example, when the Partnership for a Drug Free America reported on it, in Study Finds Underage Drinkers Prefer Top Alcohol Brands, they concluded with this quote from CAMY director David Jernigan:
“This research will lead to insights that will inform public policy,” he says. “Everybody has gut sense that some brands are appealing to kids more than others. Now we know for which brands that is working.”
Except that there are no real insights in this at all. That it’s even in a “scientific journal,” albeit “Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research” — not exactly the journal Nature — is baffling. Here’s the “Background” from the abstract: “Little is known about brand-specific alcohol consumption among underage youth.” Really, we don’t currently know what brands underage kids are drinking? Seriously, how can they print that without losing all credibility. Neo-prohibitionists have been complaining about what kids are drinking for decades, if not longer. But until we asked 1,000 teenagers to take an online survey, we had no idea which brands? Are they kidding? What a joke.
Then there’s the “Conclusions,” which frankly I’m surprised is plural, as if there is more than one conclusion. But here it is: “Underage youth alcohol consumption, although spread out over several alcoholic beverage types, is concentrated among a relatively small number of alcohol brands. This finding has important implications for alcohol research, practice, and policy.”
I can’t wait to here about the “important implications” to which they believe that future “alcohol research, practice, and policy” will be altered by the groundbreaking news that kids are drinking the same stuff their parents are drinking. Why isn’t this on the front page, above the fold, of the Grey Lady herself? But really, the question ought to be why is it news at all.
I wonder how CAMY would process this Brazilian brand created to warn about the dangers of underage drinking?
Here’s an interesting piece of history, during the temperance movement of the early 20th century, when propaganda as a science was still in its infancy. Propaganda has been around almost as long as we’ve had civilization, but really came into its own with World War I, so these prohibitionist efforts were just before that, around 1909. And it would just be a curiosity, an artifact of another time, if not for the fact that the neo-prohibitionists today continue in the sad tradition of this same kind of nonsense, never missing an opportunity to chastise adults for their parenting in an effort to demonize alcohol and remove it once more from society. For the sake of the children continues to be a popular rallying cry, and just as ridiculous today as a century ago.
Safeguarding the Babies, apparently a popular poster from the time, argued that if you as an adult drank alcohol then you were creating weak children, ones with diminished “vitality,” a term never really defined. This, the poster claims, is based on science and states that families where the parents are teetotalers only have 1.3% weakly children while families where the adults drink have kids who are 8.2% weakly. Oh, the horror! It’s a little hard to read that in the poster, but a lantern slide made a few years later by the National Woman’s Christian Temperance Union in 1914, using the same data, is more clear and even goes on to suggest that in drinking families almost of a quarter (24.8%) of their children will die while abstaining families kids will perish only 18.5% of the time. So that must mean the 6.3% difference is due entirely to their being drink in the house, right? I mean, what else could it possibly be?
Yet another version, this one from 1913 and created by the Scientific Temperance Federation of Boston, Massachusetts, is one of at least 50 such poster that they made available to their followers, and through their “Scientific Temperance Journal,” which is about as scientific as you might expect. At least this one actually reveals the source of the “science,” which was a survey of 109 families in a single village in Finland. In 50 of those families, the adults didn’t drink, while in the other 59 they did. That’s the study, conducted by a professor Taav. Laitinen of the University of Helsingfors, which is the University of Helsinki, and apparently published as “Report XII International Congress vs. Alcoholism.”
It’s hard to say if the 109 families in Laitinen’s “study” is a statistically significant cohort, but it seems unlikely. But Laitinen continued to expand his research to include more finnish families, eventually including nearly 6,000, and he continued to get predictably similar results.
But scientific hooey aside, the message was clear. Drink, and your children will suffer. Drink, and your children are more likely to die. I tend to view the early 20th century as a more gullible time, and I can only assume many more people believed this nonsense without questioning it. Neo-prohibitionist groups today employ the same pseudo-scientific balderdash, only now they dress it up with degreed researchers and publish in slightly less questionable scientific journals, or at least ones that hide their true purpose better. But then, as now, it’s still laced with naked agenda to promote a specific cause, not to enlighten or educate for the sake of that knowledge. It is propaganda, pure and simple. The scare tactics are particularly offensive, since it calls into question the parenting of virtually anyone who drinks alcohol as somehow caring less for their children than parents who abstain. I’d love to say we live in a more enlightened age, but today’s anti-alcohol organizations continue to stoop just as low as cries of “think of the children” ring just as hollow now as when they questioned the “vitality” of our children merely by growing up in a household where drinking took place.
Given that the anti-alcohol folks, and especially my churlish neighbors Alcohol Justice, are continually beating the drum about alcohol taxes being too low, this news is not going to be particularly welcomed with open arms. A British think tank, the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA), recently took a close look at the effect of higher taxes in alcohol and their report, Drinking in the Shadow Economy, found that the British “Treasury is losing as much as £1.2 billion every year to the illegal alcohol industry.” That, they conclude, is one of the effects of higher taxes on alcohol, because it creates an incentive for people to go outside the law and the safe world of regulated alcohol to make a quick buck. They found that “the illicit alcohol market is also closely associated with high taxes, corruption and poverty. The affordability of alcohol appears to be the key determinant behind the supply and demand for smuggled and counterfeit alcohol.” So place too high taxes on alcohol, and you invite in the wrong element, which we’ve seen in the U.S. before during Prohibition, and which we’re seeing right now with the war on drugs. If that futile policy was reversed, we’d save as much $13.7 billion annually by legalizing, regulating and taxing just marijuana, not to mention we’d remove the criminal element, make it safer and drastically reduce burdens on police, the justice system and prisons.
But back across the pond, the study also notes that the “demand for alcohol is relatively inelastic,” meaning people generally don’t drink less when prices go up, they instead find new ways to address the rising prices. As study after study has concluded, tax hikes are regressive and almost always hit poorer families the hardest, while not eliminating the problem the proponents of such measures claim they will fix.
But here’s that again, said another way:
Our analysis indicates that the affordability of alcohol does not have a strong effect on how much alcohol is consumed. Once unrecorded alcohol is included in the estimates, it can be seen that countries with the least affordable alcohol have the same per capita alcohol consumption rates as those with the most affordable alcohol.
I suspect that’s the case here, too. We know that price hikes cause people living near borders with other states to simply buy their alcohol in the next state over, causing further economic erosion. I don’t know if we have the same issue with counterfeit or illegal beer. Certainly there’s still Moonshine, but beer is probably not profitable enough on its own to warrant illegal breweries flaunting the tax code, not to mention how labor intensive and technology-dependent it is.
Another interesting portion of the report, answering the question “Why Tax Alcohol?”
Temperance and public health campaigners typically dismiss the black market as a problem that can suppressed through rigorous enforcement and tougher sentencing. At worst, they view a growing unofficial market as a price worth paying for a more sober society. This view is rooted in the belief that affordability is the main driver of alcohol consumption and that increasing prices by raising excise duty is therefore the single most effective way of reducing alcohol sales.
Ceteris paribus, economists would expect there to be some truth in this assertion, but there is too much real world evidence to the contrary for it to be taken as an iron rule. For example, alcohol consumption has fallen in most European countries since 1980 despite alcohol becoming significantly more affordable (OECD, 2011: 275).19 In Denmark, Sweden and Finland, the sudden drop in alcohol prices that resulted from EU accession did not bring about the kind of surge in alcohol consumption that the price elasticity models predicted.
A comparison of European countries suggests that affordability has a negligible and statistically insignificant negative effect on recorded alcohol consumption (see Figure 12). Moreover, as Figure 13 shows, when unrecorded alcohol consumption is included in the analysis, affordability does not appear to be a decisive factor in determining alcohol consumption from one country to the next.
Then there’s this long passage addressing some of the philosophy behind taxation which seems to fly in the face of much of the neo-prohibitionists propaganda playbook:
Contrary to temperance rhetoric, high alcohol taxes are not necessarily good for public health because, although excessive alcohol consumption undoubtedly carries risks to health, so too does moonshine. Counterfeit spirits and surrogate alcohol frequently contain dangerous levels of methanol, isopropanol and other chemicals which cause toxic hepatitis, blindness and death. These are the unintended consequences one associates with prohibition, albeit at a less intense level than was seen in America in the 1920s.
It should not be surprising that excessive taxation encourages the same illicit activity as prohibition since the difference is only one of degrees. As John Stuart Mill noted in 1859: ‘To tax stimulants for the sole purpose of making them more difficult to be obtained is a measure differing only in degree from their entire prohibition, and would be justifiable only if that were justifiable. Every increase of cost is a prohibition to those whose means do not come up to the augmented price’ (Mill, 1974: 170-171).
But in a less frequently quoted passage, Mill appears to approve of taxing alcohol to the apex of what we now call the Laffer Curve. Appreciating that governments need to raise funds and that these politicians must decide ‘what commodities the consumers can best spare’, Mill argues that taxation of stimulants ‘up to the point which produces the largest amount of revenue (supposing that the State needs all the revenue which it yields) is not only admissible, but to be approved of’ (Mill, 1974: 171).
This message tends to resonate more powerfully with politicians than Mill’s more libertarian pronouncements. Drinkers generally prefer low alcohol prices. Temperance campaigners nearly always demand higher prices. The politician, however, usually seeks to maximise tax revenues and will only react to the shadow economy when it becomes a serious threat to state finances. Nordlund and Österberg summarise the politician’s dilemma as follows:
‘Domestic economic actors can, of course, support the rules and regulations imposed by the state for controlling unrecorded alcohol consumption, but for these actors a better solution in combating unrecorded alcohol consumption would be the lowering of alcohol excise taxes… In most cases the state is not willing to follow this policy, as lower alcohol excise taxes in most cases mean lower levels of alcohol-related tax incomes. However, if the state is no longer able to control the amount of unrecorded alcohol consumption by different kinds of legal administrative restrictions the only remaining way to counteract, for instance, huge increases in travellers’ border trade with alcoholic beverages or an expansive illegal alcohol market is to lower the price difference between unrecorded and recorded alcohol by decreasing excise taxes on alcoholic beverages.’ (Nordlund, 2000: S559)
It scarcely matters to the politician whether unrecorded alcohol comes from legal or illegal sources. In either case, the treasury loses out on revenue. In Britain, HMRC estimates that the alcohol tax gap could be as much as £1.2 billion per annum, plus the costs of enforcement, and that this is largely because ‘duty rates on alcohol are far higher in the UK than in mainland Europe’ (National Audit Office, 2012: 2, 10). This is the price the state must pay for excessive taxation, but the politician is also aware that these high alcohol taxes raise £9 billion a year (Collis, 2010: 3). Being in possession of these facts he may conclude that reducing the illicit alcohol supply through tax cuts will probably reduce net alcohol tax revenues.
We argue that such a focus on maximising tax revenues is short-sighted and carries significant risks. Failing to deal with alcohol’s shadow economy threatens not only the public finances, but also public health and public order. Unrecorded alcohol has, as Nordlund and Österberg note, ‘the potential to lead to political, social and economic problems’ (Nordlund, 2000: S562). In addition to the health hazards presented by unregulated spirits, alcohol fraud in the UK is, according to the HMRC, ‘perpetrated by organised criminal gangs smuggling alcohol into the UK in large commercial quantities’ (HMRC, 2012: 8). Alcohol smuggling and counterfeiting is linked to other illegal activities, including drug smuggling, prostitution, violence, money-laundering and — in a few instances — terrorism.
“The government’s focus on maximising tax revenues is short-sighted and dangerous. Aside from losing money by encouraging consumers to find cheaper illicit alternatives, public health and public order are also being put at risk by high prices. Policy-makers ought to take the threat of illicit alcohol production seriously when considering alcohol pricing in the future.”
“There is a clear relationship between the affordability of alcohol and the size of the black market. Politicians might view the illicit trade as a price worth paying for lower rates of alcohol consumption, but this research shows that the amount of drink consumed in high tax countries is exactly the same as in low tax countries.”
“Minimum alcohol pricing might seem like a quick fix to tackle problem drinking, but it is likely to cause many more problems by pushing people towards the black market in alcohol.”
While a fairly emphatic statement against higher taxes on alcohol, I assume that many will still wonder how applicable it is to the United States economy and society. Honestly, I’m sure there are differences, but the overall concept seems sound, at least to me. We can haggle over some of the details, but the idea that higher taxes isn’t always the answer just has the ring of truth to it.
Mark Twain is generally credited with popularizing the phrase: “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics.” He attributed it to British statesman Benjamin Disraeli, though most historians now dispute that. So even when speaking about lying, there were lies. Today’s neo-prohibitionists would be proud, lying with statistics is something they’ve finely honed into its own kind of science. If you haven’t read How To Lie With Statistics or the more recent Trust Us, We’re Experts!, they both provide great insights into just how it’s been done over the years, and continues to be done with alarming frequency.
All of the news stories rely on the CAMY press release and not the study itself, which seems at least a little strange. So here’s the Abstract:
To assess the content of alcohol advertising in youth-oriented U.S. magazines, with specific attention to subject matter pertaining to risk and sexual connotations and to youth exposure to these ads.
This study consisted of a content analysis of a census of 1,261 unique alcohol advertisements (“creatives”) recurring 2,638 times (“occurrences”) in 11 U.S. magazines with disproportionately youthful readerships between 2003 and 2007. Advertisements were assessed for content relevant to injury, overconsumption, addiction, and violations of industry guidelines (termed “risk” codes), as well as for sexism and sexual activity.
During the 5-year study period, more than one-quarter of occurrences contained content pertaining to risk, sexism, or sexual activity. Problematic content was concentrated in a minority of brands, mainly beer and spirits brands. Those brands with higher youth-to-adult viewership ratios were significantly more likely to have a higher percentage of occurrences with addiction content and violations of industry guidelines. Ads with violations of industry guidelines were more likely to be found in magazines with higher youth readerships.
The prevalence of problematic content in magazine alcohol advertisements is concentrated in advertising for beer and spirits brands, and violations of industry guidelines and addiction content appear to increase with the size of youth readerships, suggesting that individuals aged <21 years may be more likely to see such problematic content than adults.
There’s a lot gobbledygook and psychobabble jargon in that, but happily the news reports picked up the additional information in the press release to help out those of us who can’t afford to pay to see the full article. The so-called “study” is not exactly scientific, despite the academic journal publication and pedigree, but suffers greatly from how it’s defined and how the ads were characterized — how those “risk codes” were applied. As the study was sponsored by a particular organization with an agenda, it’s hardly a surprise that the conclusions would support that agenda. After all, they bought and paid for it.
One of the premises is that the 11 magazines they examined were ones with a “substantial youth readership,” which is important since they’re claiming that alcohol companies are targeting kids and/or violating advertising standards. I’d love to know which magazines they targeted, but that information has not been made readily available, even though you’d think that with such a dire problem they’d want to warn parents which magazines not to let their impressionable young children read. Should we wonder why that is? What it really comes down to is how they define “substantial youth readership?” For the study, that meant at least 15% of the readership was estimated to be underage, which is presumably what they mean by “youth.” I think most people would be hard pressed to consider 15% of anything “substantial.” So right from the get go, the study seems flawed; unless of course your goal is to manufacture a particular conclusion.
They further claim that these ads “frequently showed alcohol being consumed in an irresponsible manner.” First of all, how you define what “irresponsible” means is at best very subjective and certainly prone to be interpreted differently by different people. One of the examples of what they mean is “showing alcohol consumption near or on bodies of water.” Since when is that the hallmark of irresponsible behavior? Beer can’t be consumed responsibly, or safely, if there’s water nearby? Seriously, WTF?
Other examples they give include “encouraging overconsumption and providing messages supportive of alcohol addiction.” But those are both so vague as to be almost meaningless, and very open to interpretation. They further suggest that “sexual connotations or sexual objectification” were seen in “nearly one in five ad occurrences.” Again, pretty vague and subjective, but beyond that, so what? Isn’t “sex sells” the number one rule of advertising? Even if true, is alcohol advertising the only group using sex to sell their product? Or is that tactic literally everywhere. I remember being shown in an advertising class during college how the word “sex” could be found in the hair of the colonel in Kentucky Friend Chicken advertising. Sex is everywhere. Shock, surprise? Hardly. It’s the reason we’re all here. If you go looking for it, you’re going to find it. And frankly, under the circumstances, finding less than 20% of the alcohol ads with sexual content seems positively rock bottom, and something that they should see as a positive, wouldn’t you think?
But despite such vagueness, CAMY is undaunted, and finds exactly what they’re looking for. CAMY director and study co-author David Jernigan makes this claim. “The bottom line here is that youth are getting hit repeatedly by ads for spirits and beer in magazines geared towards their age demographic.” He goes on. “As at least 14 studies have found that the more young people are exposed to alcohol advertising and marketing, the more likely they are to drink, or if already drinking, to drink more, this report should serve as a wake-up call to parents and everyone else concerned about the health of young people.”
But another similar study by CAMY done in 2010 found that Less Alcohol Advertising Makes No Difference. In that study — covering nearly the same period of time — they found that youth exposure to alcohol advertising in magazines fell by 48 percent, alcohol advertising placed in publications with under 21 audiences greater than 30 percent fell to almost nothing by 2008, and youth exposure in magazines with youth age 12-to-20 audience composition above 15 percent declined by 48.4 percent. So apparently with that no longer a problem, they instead turned their attention to magazines with a youth readership of less than 15%. That must be the problem. There has to be a problem, after all. Without problems, there can be no fund raising. There can be no clarion call to arms against the heathen drinkers and alcohol companies.
This is the modern era of non-profits. There always has to be a problem. Now matter how much progress their organization makes against whatever problem they believe exists — and they will crow about that progress — the problem persists ad infinitum. It has to. But this particular problem has already been disproved. In 2003, a “‘Federal Trade Commission report to Congress indicate[d] that its comprehensive investigation’ found no evidence of targeting underage consumers.” See Alcohol Ads Target Youth? for the full story. The media may call this “How Alcohol Ads Target Kids,” but I can’t help but see it as just the opposite. When you look closer, it seems to me more like “How Neo-Prohibitionists Target Alcohol.”
As a lifelong lover of all things drawn — comic strips, comic books, graphic novels, cartoons and animated films — there’s an argument that the neo-prohibitionist wingnuts make from time to to time that absolutely frys my bacon. And they’re at it again. The increasingly neo-prohibitionist group Alcohol Justice (AJ) is unhappy once more with Anheuser-Busch InBev (are they ever happy?), this time because they’re using — gasp! — cartoons to promote their association with the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC). In Bud Light and UFC Push Beer to Kids with Comics, AJ makes the same tired argument they always do whenever anybody uses an image that’s been drawn in an advertisement. Here’s how they put it this time:
So how does a company that says it’s committed to not advertising to kids choose to spend millions of its marketing dollars? Get this: comic strips, posted on Facebook, targeting fans of mixed-martial arts fighting, also known as Ultimate Fighting Championships. As the primary sponsor of the brutal and offensive UFC, A-B InBev gets the Bud Light logo delivered directly to the computer screens of millions of kids worldwide. Moreover, they use the quintessential child-friendly format of comic strips to do it. The only way they could top this direct advertising to youth is if they plastered Sponge Bob SquarePants’ picture on Bud Light cans.
Well get this, comic strips and other animated fare is NOT JUST FOR KIDS. They never, ever have been. Yes, there are cartoons aimed at kids, but many, many are either for all ages or are for more mature people. People able to separate content from delivery, something that AJ is apparently incapable of, understand this. The folks that come up with these arguments must be the least fun people to be around, if they avoid anything that’s been animated because they believe it must be for kids only. Think what they’re missing.
But just a short history should convince even the most jaded neo-prohibitionist that comics have long been for all ages, and many were aimed at adults since they were first created. The very first comic strip, The Yellow Kid, began in newspapers in the last decade of the 19th century. It tackled social and political topics, and was for the adults who read newspapers. The first animated film, Gertie the Dinosaur, created by Windsor McCay in 1914, was similarly not exclusively kiddie-fare. McKay used it in his vaudeville act, which was not for kids.
All those Looney Toons, Tom & Jerry’s, Popeye’s and other cartoons we grew up watching Saturday mornings and after school began as the cartoon shown before the main attraction started at movie theaters. And we’re not talking about kiddie files, but all films. They were aimed at either the adults there to see an adult film or were for all ages (Disney being exception and the prime example of a studio that did more family-friendly stuff). That’s why there are lots of old Warner Brothers cartoons (and others) that are never shown on television when they repackaged them for TV, because their subject matter is seen as inappropriate for today’s youth.
Comic books in the 1950s covered a wide range of subjects, not just superheroes, but another wingnut wrote “Seduction of the Innocent,” a deeply flawed book that equated violence with reading comic books, and comic books were reduced to only kid-friendly stories (at least until the 1980s).
Try to watch Rocky & Bullwinkle or Beany & Cecil and not see all the adult political references. You’d have to be utterly clueless to not see that cartoons have never been the exclusive realm of children. Many mature adults love cartoons now, and have since people first started drawing them.
That AJ and other anti-alcohol folks claim this is, for me, more proof of how they’re willing to bend the truth, and common sense, to push their agenda. I don’t even like the UFC, or any type of fighting sports like boxing, etc. (except for the NFL), but just because they use a comic strip promoting it does not ipso facto mean they’re targeting kids. You’d have to be a child yourself to make, or swallow, that line of reasoning.
Another interesting tactic that AJ uses again here is claiming they’re not the only one outraged, when they state that “Culinary Workers Union recently sent a forceful letter to A-B InBev expressing disgust at the company’s ‘socially irresponsible behavior.’” Except that when you look at this letter, it’s also signed by AJ’s executive director Bruce Lee Livingston, meaning it’s more likely AJ’s letter, or at a minimum a joint letter. But that fact is conveniently left out of their press release, most likely because it would weaken their already questionable argument. As I said, I’m no fan of the UFC, or similar spectacles, and I tend to believe the world would be a better place if people didn’t enjoy violence quite so much, but any meaningful public discussion has to start by being honest. And starting that discussion by claiming that if anybody uses a cartoon then they’re only targeting kids, is hardly honest. Now I need a beer, and the Simpsons is on.
I saw this tweet earlier today from my neighbors at the Marin Institute — now Alcohol Justice:
#Alcohol is the third-leading #preventable cause of death in the U.S. Fact sheets – #free to download… http://bit.ly/r8KoO5
First of all, somebody at Alcohol Justice (AJ) doesn’t quite understand the hashtag, using it on alcohol, preventable and free!
But Twitter etiquette aside, that statement is false, and they probably know that, making it a lie, to my way of thinking. But saying it that way makes it sound scarier, and AJ is all about propaganda these days as IMHO they’ve become more and more neo-prohibitionist since becoming the self-appointed sheriff, and changing their name.
That statement about alcohol being the “third-leading preventable cause of death in the U.S.” comes from the CDC. It’s from a 2001 study entitled “Alcohol-Attributable Deaths and Years of Potential Life Lost — United States, 2001,” and published in 2004. The very first words of the summary give you the spin, as it begins “Excessive alcohol consumption is the third leading preventable cause of death in the United States.” That’s right, it’s not alcohol, but excessive alcohol. Those of you drinking in moderation and responsibly — that is, the vast majority of adult drinkers — can breathe a sigh a relief. They weren’t talking about you. But they did materially change the “facts” to suit their needs and agenda. Put less charitably, they lied, at least in my opinion. Here’s the first few sentences:
Excessive alcohol consumption is the third leading preventable cause of death in the United States and is associated with multiple adverse health consequences, including liver cirrhosis, various cancers, unintentional injuries, and violence. To analyze alcohol-related health impacts, CDC estimated the number of alcohol-attributable deaths (AADs) and years of potential life lost (YPLLs) in the United States during 2001.
There’s a table at the bottom that reiterates that they’re taking about “the harmful effects of excessive alcohol use.” That table then lists all sorts of diseases, many of which may be related to alcohol, but many or most of which are only marginally associated. These sorts of reports have been discredited before, because they include a disease that excessive alcohol use may make worse, but which won’t cause the disease all on its own. Other factors are always involved. More generally, these are estimates that take a lot of liberties in their calculations. They are not hard numbers by any stretch.
The second report that AJ attributes to this statement is another study, this one also from 2004 in JAMA, the Journal of the American Medical Association. In that article, Actual Causes of Death in the United States, 2000, they found that heart disease, tumors and strokes were the three leading causes of death for Americans. You can see from the numbers that those statistics were relatively precise.
But now look at the next chart, where alcohol consumption is listed as the third highest among what they term “actual causes of death.” Those are obvious estimates, and based on how round the numbers are, probably more like guesses. They come from several studies conducted by interview, some by phone, in both the U.S. and Australia that were aggregated together. So at least a half-dozen studies using different methodologies, questions and sample sizes were lumped together to create their findings. And if you review the study’s limitations near the bottom at the “Comments” section you’ll see that there were many factors, such as genetics and cholesterol levels, that were simply not considered, further clouding the results.
But something else is apparent, too. Even if we accept those guesses (and you shouldn’t) tobacco and overeating/not exercising account for nearly 10 times the deaths that are attributed to alcohol. Those first two account for 34.7%, over a third, while alcohol is 3.5%. And from 1990 to 2000, alcohol actually went down 1.5%, from 100,000 estimated deaths to 85,000.
And while any death is regrettable and a tragedy, especially to their loved ones, roughly 2,437,163 die every year in America. Every one of us will one day become a part of that statistic. The current CDC estimates are that the most likely reasons for our demise will be heart disease, cancer, chronic lower respiratory disease, stroke, accidents (unintentional injuries), Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, influenza and pneumonia, nephritis (kidney trouble), nephrotic syndrome, and nephrosis (different kidney diseases) and suicide. Some of those diseases may be exacerbated by excessive alcohol consumption, but these, and many other diseases, will be held at bay by moderate alcohol drinking and will also most likely result in our living longer than both teetotalers or excessive drinkers.
Responsible alcohol consumption will also enhance our lives in ways that reduce stress and make our lives more enjoyable. Such positive associations and outcomes are never included in these types of studies, however. Any harm to individuals, often of their own making, is never balanced by the enhancement to our life experience that responsible drinking brings to a majority of Americans. When you go looking for harm, that’s all you will find. But when you set about to twist even these questionable studies to make them seem far worse than even they represent, that’s shameful propaganda and does little to actually address the real problems that some individuals do have with drinking.
Our 65th Session is hosted by British blogger Nate Southwood who multi-blogs at his Booze, Beats & Bites. The topic he’s chosen is “So Lonely,” meaning going to the pub to have a beer alone. Here’s how he describes his Session topic:
Speaking of fun, going to the pub with a bunch of mates is great… you have a few beers and a laugh, generally a fun time and all.
I love going to the pub with mates but sometimes I go to a pub alone and I enjoy it.
Other people say I’m weird for this as there seems to be a stigma attached to being in the pub alone — alcoholism.
There are many reasons why I go to the pub alone.
Sometimes I just want to spend some quality time alone that isn’t at home.
Sometimes I’m walking home and fancy a pit-stop.
Sometimes my mates are all busy with their girlfriends/wives/children and I want a pint.
Sometimes I just fancy going to the pub and observing the bizarre people around me.
Sometimes I want to sit down and write blogs on my tableaux while having a pint.
Sometimes I just want to play angry birds while having a pint.
Sometimes I just want to prop myself at the bar and discuss beer with the bartender.
Sometimes I want to explore pubs that I’ve never been to before but my mates don’t want to.
Sometimes I’m just a miserable bastard and don’t want to socialise but want a nice pint.
The way I see it is that I love beer and pubs and I don’t see why I should only go to the pub when I’m with other people.
Am I weird for going to the pub alone?
How do you feel about going to the pub alone? Do you feel it’s necessary to be around friends to spend time in a pub?
So to get in the right spirit, I’m putting on the Police’s song So Lonely and pouring myself a beer as I sit in the house all my myself, alone, as it were. It seems to me the only way to write about drinking alone is by actually doing just that. The profession of writing is itself a rather lonely one, hours upon hours spent in relative solitude tapping on keys and watching letters, words, sentences, paragraphs and, hopefully, fully formed thoughts and ideas spool out onto a computer screen in the vain hope that someone else will read them, like them (or at least be moved to think about them), and ultimately pay you for them.
Being a writer about beer is essentially a double whammy of loneliness, drinking and writing alone. As I wrote two sessions ago, “[m]y job often requires me to drink beer alone, which is far from my favorite thing to do. It’s perhaps the worst way to have a beer, even though it’s sometimes necessary. Alone, beer is stripped of all its intangibles, its raison d’etre. You can evaluate the constituent parts, its construction, even how they come together as a finished beer. In other words, on a technical basis. And that’s how you should begin, but there must be a discussion waiting at the end of that process.” So now I’m going to contradict myself and say that while that remains true some, or even most, of the time, there are indeed times when drinking alone isn’t as terrible as I made it out to be and that we can, and should, be allowed to enjoy a drink in silence and solitude.
For myself, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve ducked into a pub for a quick lunch and a beer, usually with a book in hand. It’s a satisfying way to eat a meal, drink a beer and feed your head, too. It usually reminds me of the great Bill Hicks’ bit about reading alone, “looks like we got ourselves a reader:”
But for reasons passing understanding, drinking alone is often equated with having a drinking problem or being an alcoholic. Even the “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition” does not mention solitary imbibing as a symptom of alcohol dependence. These are outlined at About.com’s Alcoholism page and you won’t find drinking alone among the symptoms. But when you click on their online quiz of 20 Questions known as the Alcohol Abuse Screening Quiz to discover if You Have an Alcohol Problem, question sixteen is “Do you drink alone?” But even most honest counseling centers, AA, what have you will admit that it’s not the act of drinking alone that signals, in and of itself, problem drinking, but the reasons for drinking alone, the underlying cause. Yet the notion of drinking alone automatically meaning an alcoholic persists. It’s downright pervasive in our society. Do a Google Image search for “drinking alone” or “at the bar alone” and look at what comes up. The great majority of images are depressing looking people, heads down, slumped over, with very few, if any, smiling people or positive associations shown.
Alone in the Bar by Argentine artist Gabriel Hernan Ramirez
As is typical, the neo-prohibitionist, anti-alcohol version of reality gets more play and has wormed its way into the public consciousness through a concerted effort of their propaganda over many decades. It doesn’t really matter that there are numerous legitimate, healthy reasons one might have a drink alone that isn’t a sign of anything untoward or problematic, but that would make the narrative more difficult to carry. It’s far easier to keep it simple and not have to explain nuance or an understanding of how, and why, people drink.
2. Do you drink alone? Social drinking is one thing, but we believe that drinking alone is one of the sure fire ten warning signs of alcoholism or growing alcohol dependency. Drinking alone indicates a need for alcohol.
Hmm, “drinking alone indicates a need for alcohol.” Really? It does in all cases? Of course, not. It could just as easily be explained by being thirsty, for chrissakes. And notice that they don’t say it absolutely is a sign of alcohol dependencey, but instead say “we believe that drinking alone is one of the sure fire ten warning signs of alcoholism or growing alcohol dependency.” Well, sure, if it’s in your best interests to have as many people pay for your services, then it’s no surprise that you’d believe whatever creates the impression of more alcoholics because that means more customers, too.
Even the Medline Plus online medical encyclopedia, a “service of the U.S. National Library of Medicine and National Institutes of Health,” on their Alcoholism and alcohol abuse page, includes drinking alone under their list of symptoms, as does the celebrated Mayo Clinic.
But in every case, the context is not explored. It’s presented as black and white: if you drink alone, you’re a problem drinker or alcoholic. Even if tempered by “might be,” the impression that these authoritative sources give is that drinking alone is to be feared as the beginnings of a downward slide into degradation and life-crippling alcoholism. To know that’s true, just ask any ten random people. Most of them will tell you that they believe that to be the case. And that’s because certain people and groups have been saying so for so long, with virtually no dissenting opinions or contrary evidence or even common sense or reason being allowed into the debate. We say so, end of story, case closed. Like most of the propaganda coming from, or having been twisted and influenced by, anti-alcohol concerns, it’s both infuriating and grossly untrue. This is especially so because it makes people feel guilty and shameful for doing something as natural as drinking a beverage they like and want to have just because they’re alone. It’s why this could even be a topic, because it’s so taken for granted by so many people. If you’re alone and want a beer, goddammit, order a beer.
Drinking alone, on the other hand, is a much more pure and forthright form of imbibing, and I say that because it focuses entirely on the simple act of putting alcohol into your bloodstream. It tosses aside all the half-hearted pretensions about merely using alcohol as a social tool. It gets down to what drinking is all about: getting loaded, and by doing that, getting down to the inner you. The inner joy, the inner madness, the subconscious you, the real you.
And a few years ago, Esquire magazine published suggestions on How to Drink Alone, which included some I agree with — ignore the television, look up often and read, don’t pretend to read — but also some I do not — don’t eat or that it’s never about being happy. Still, I love that they not only have no problem with drinking alone, but positively celebrate it. I think that’s how it should be. No one should tell another person or society as a whole that something that may be a problem for a minority of people should be avoided by everybody on the off chance that they can’t handle it. It would be like making red meat illegal because some people insist on eating too much of it and develop a heart condition. It sounds absurd when applied to almost everything else, but no ones questions it when it’s alcohol because neo-prohibitionists have dones such a good job of painting alcohol with the broad brush of danger. At the same time, they both ignore and insist that there is nothing positive about drinking alcohol, despite common sense and the obvious error of that position.
That people enjoy alcohol for a myriad of reasons and that most can continue to enjoy it as responsible adults should, it seems to me, be so obvious that it shouldn’t even have to be mentioned. But as long as there are people who fear it and believe it is the ruin of everything good in the world, I guess we have to keep reminding them that their position is not true for everyone; it’s not even true for most people. Most of us can have a drink alone for the best of reasons and not fall into a ruinous life. That we should wonder if that’s okay is perhaps the unkindest cut of all; proof positive that the anti-alcohol wingnuts are winning the war. They’ve obviously been allowed to frame the argument in their terms, because the question really should be why should we even have to ask if we can drink alone. If we can, we can. Now go away, I have a beer to finish and I want to be alone.