The Prohibitionist Pot Calling The Brew Kettle Black

pot-kettle
This is almost funny, an amazing press release from Alcohol Justice that is so lacking in self-awareness and irony that it’s hard not to laugh at just how truly absurd it is. Why any media outlet, anyone really, takes them seriously is a head-scratcher, especially with such a remarkable lack of perception displayed in this particular press release. This is perhaps the most remarkable case of the pot calling the kettle black that I have ever seen. According to the latest missive from the Sheriff of Anti-Alcohol, Alcohol Justice, the Century Council is in the “AJ Doghouse” — where I permanently live — and they accuse the group of a host of sins. Since the beginning of April, Alcohol Awareness Month, they’ve been tweeting their displeasure:

In the AJ Doghouse: Century Council Rebrand Rehashes Old Tricks http://bit.ly/1jayaKO Big Al’s smoke & mirrors.

I love that they’re now calling “Big Alcohol” by the shorter nickname “Big Al.” Do you think AJ knows that “Big Al” is the name of the mascot for the University of Alabama? Or that Big Al’s was one of the first strip clubs in San Francisco? There’s even a Big Al brewery in Washington.

big-al

But what’s really amazing about this particular press release is that practically everything that AJ is accusing the Century Council of doing is something that Alcohol Justice has themselves done at some point, and not throughout history, but recently. The “Old Tricks” that AJ claims they’re rehashing are all “tricks” they’ve also done, though when they did them it was perfectly acceptable behavior. Let’s break it down:

Just in time for Alcohol Awareness Month, the Century Council (educational front group arm of spirits producer trade group DISCUS) has announced a major rebrand effort, changing its name to sound more like an official NGO or policy institute: Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility (FAAR).

coming-april-2

This one is particularly funny. Do they think nobody will remember the Marin Institute? It’s only been three years since Alcohol Justice announced a major rebrand effort, changing its name to sound more official or more like a Wild West vigilante: Alcohol Justice (AJ). But when the Century Council does it, it’s for nefarious purposes, but when AJ did it, the new name supposedly “better reflects its national and global reach, and clarifies its mission.” Uh-huh. Sure. As Professor David J. Hanson wrote around the time of the name change, AJ “finally acknowledged that ‘we aren’t a research organization as institute implies.’ The fact that the Marin Institute wasn’t a research organization has long been noted by observers, although the activist group has often presented itself to the public and media as engaging in research.”

Whatever this industry-funded membership group calls itself, its real mission remains—to absolve its founders and funders from accountability for the staggering harm their products cause, and to raise as much profit and goodwill for their shareholders as possible.

No matter what “Big Al” does, it carries malicious intent. There is literally nothing that the alcohol industry can do that would satisfy AJ. They even found something to complain about when Anheuser-Busch gave water to hurricane victims in Haiti. You’d think that if alcohol was trying to combat the minority of people who abuse it, they’d welcome it, but when we do it, we’re apparently not serious about it. This one serious pisses me off, as if people in the alcohol industry don’t value human life as much as they do. It’s as if they think we’re fine with people dying. I honestly think sometimes, the way they describe us, that they don’t think that we’re human. It’s more than insulting. They claim that it’s just to “raise as much profit and goodwill for their shareholders as possible,” but much of what AJ does is solicit donations with their press releases and repetitive tweeting. In December, they kept asking for donations over and over again. Beyond that, a recent conference of prohibitionist groups revealed that their motives are to punish or profit from alcohol companies. One even said “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.” Also at that event, AJ’s head sheriff Bruce Lee 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.”

The new name does sound a little more grown up—like a bona fide, credible, research-based organization whose newly revamped mission is to help people drink a little less dangerously. The focus group and stakeholder feedback must have given them the green light — and hey, that’s one of the theme colors, too! (Unfortunately, our invitation to participate in the stakeholder group must have gotten shunted to the Spam folder…)

Snide comments aside, though I can’t help but point out it doesn’t make them sound particularly “more grown up,” here’s what’s insulting about them saying their “invitation to participate in the stakeholder group must have gotten shunted to the Spam folder.” A couple of years ago, at the National Conference of State Liquor Administrators, Alcohol Justice complained about the event in an obnoxious, insulting press release. But it was later revealed, when the NCSLA responded with a press release of their own, that “the now re-branded entity formerly known Marin Institute has repeatedly chosen not to become a member of the NCSLA despite the numerous invitations that have been extended to them and the years of courtesies from the NCSLA they have enjoyed in the form of expense-paid attendance at NCSLA conferences and participation on NCSLA panels. It is equally telling that this statement comes when further special treatment has been denied this re-branded entity while at the same time it was directly invited and encouraged to join the NCSLA, take a seat at the proverbial table, but on the same terms as those long met by other public health and public advocacy groups. It is disheartening when any entity with substantial financial resources, yet without the economic hardships endured for years by state beverage alcohol regulators, appears content to do nothing.” And given that AJ does nothing but insult alcohol companies, why would they even think it reasonable that they be given an “invitation to participate in the stakeholder group.” It’s absurd when you consider the way they treat the alcohol industry. Can they really believe that much in their own self-importance? Do they not realize how the world sees them? But let’s continue. What’s next?

But here is the reality. The corporations that fund these groups:

  • Pay academic researchers to discredit the evidence of alcohol-related harm from their products and marketing tactics, and promote spurious research to support the industry/producer agenda.

This one’s rich considering how much self-serving “research” AJ is involved in. AJ staff has appeared as the authors or co-authors of numerous so-called “studies” and then they promote them as if they’re independent research. They’re constantly exaggerating, mis-leading and making things up, but when they do it it’s to further their holy agenda, if the alcohol industry funds research it has to be spurious. It’s a double-standard at best, at worst, it’s the ultimate hypocrisy. As I’ve frequently wondered, who watches the watchdog? AJ claim their mission is to be an industry watchdog, to keep us honest, but their own track record for veracity is seriously lacking.

  • Hire public relations professionals to connect concern about just 2 of the many types of alcohol-related harm with activities that have no evidence of being effective at decreasing either harm or consumption (and support their marketing efforts and profits).

I confess I have no idea what they’re talking about here. The new Responsibility.org website alone has more than two issues they’re addressing. And certainly AJ has “public relations professionals” on their payroll. But beyond that, AJ has been grossly exaggerating the “many types of alcohol-related harm,” and even has made up many of them. A great example of this is when in 2010, they tried to force a new tax on the City of San Francisco. The city commissioned a Nexus Study (at great cost to taxpayers) to examine the supposed alcohol harms that AJ continues to insist are the fault of alcohol, not the people who drink alcohol, but the expensive study relied heavily on self-serving reports by AJ and throughout relies on all sorts of misleading and questionable data and reasoning.

  • Actively lobby against evidence-based policies that reduce harm, such as increased excise taxes, restrictions on alcohol advertising, state control over alcohol sales, and decreases in outlet density.

No doubt that lobbying does go on, by the alcohol industry, but not by this group, the Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility (FAAR). I know this is hard for AJ to understand, but corporations are allowed to lobby, just like every other business in America. I’m not a fan of lobbying in general, but until it’s prohibited for all businesses, Big Al isn’t doing anything wrong. AJ, and other prohibitionist groups, are also actively engaged in lobbying. But as you’ve probably figured out by now, whatever is done in the first person — “our lobbying” — is perfectly respectable but when it’s in the third person — “their lobbying” — then it’s evil and menacing. There’s another name for that way of thinking: hypocritical.

  • Use “Drink Responsibly” as a marketing tactic to build loyalty and sell alcohol while blaming youth, parents, schools, police, and anyone else but the product and their own practices for alcohol-related harm.

This is partly another example of letting no good deed go unpunished, where nothing that Big Al does is free of selfish agenda, unlike AJ and the other prohibitionists. What’s particularly annoying about this tactic is the implication that people who make or sell alcohol are against responsibility, and are for underage drinking, drunk driving and overconsumption. Why? Because all we care about is profit, apparently. But, despite AJ’s assumption, we’re people, too. We have families, and want to keep them just as safe as AJ’s do-gooder teetotalers. Do they really think we want our kids to become alcoholics or die driving drunk? Because that’s the impression one gets when you read prohibitionist literature, that we’re all monsters.

And their notion that it’s “the product” and our “own practices” that cause people harm is so offensive that I don’t even understand how they can really think that. They talk about us blaming everyone, but they don’t seem to accept the concept of responsibility or personal responsibility. That all people, whether they drink are not, should be responsible for their own actions. How can they honestly think that when I take a drink, I can no longer control my actions and that the alcohol takes over me and forces me to commit all manner of horrors? I, and most people I know within the beer industry, hate a bad drunk as much as they do. But we don’t think it was the alcohol that’s to blame so much as the person who acted stupidly. They’re responsible for their own bad behavior, as even a child should be able to figure out. But personal responsibility doesn’t get people donating money, having a bogeyman is far better for soliciting funds.

The Century Council’s announcement was released to coincide with Alcohol Awareness Month so that the industry voice can take over the public health discussions and events during the entire month. Industry leaders such as Diageo chief executive Ivan Menezes whine about his “right” to influence public health regulation while Diageo’s (and the other spirits producers’) influence protects profits and continues paving the path to harm.

It would strike any reasonable person that announcing renewed efforts at combating alcohol issues during Alcohol Awareness Month is precisely the right time to do so, when the entire month is set aside for the very purpose of raising awareness of people with alcohol problems. Their statement that the “industry voice can take over the public health discussions and events during the entire month” is completely false, and can be proven by the very simple fact of their own press release, and they have to know how disingenuous they’re being. But more telling is that this is the most typical tactic of the prohibitionists, sending out press releases that are regurgitated by media outlets as news with no dissenting or contrary opinions, thereby allowing AJ, and the others, to frame the discussion about alcohol policy. This is what happens perhaps 95% of the time, or more. I guess AJ doesn’t like it when we do it. Maybe they think they own the idea of trying to control the message.

Margaret Chan, the director-general of the World Health Organisation, put it bluntly: “As we learned from experience with the tobacco industry, a powerful corporation can sell the public just about anything…This is not a failure of individual will-power. This is a failure of political will to take on big business…When industry is involved in policy-making, rest assured that the most effective control measures will be downplayed or left out entirely.”

Puh-leeze. Prohibitionist groups are very well funded. They have no trouble taking on corporations, and have been worming their way into all levels of government since prohibition ended in 1933, when they switched tactics and have been incessantly been working to limit alcohol ever since. The way prohibition ended, and the laws subsequent to it, are in themselves a victory of a sort for the prohibitionist movement. And the David vs. Goliath myth is just that, a well-managed fiction. And as I mentioned in a recent post, I’ve been reading a lot of WHO literature lately, and the inescapable conclusion “is that their mission is more about stopping people from drinking because as an organization they’re convinced that alcohol is always bad and has no positive aspects or benefits. When you only look for negative consequences, that’s all you find.” You can really only compare alcohol and tobacco by willfully ignoring the many positive aspects of alcohol.

The Big Alcohol conglomerates and the billionaires that run them can focus group a new name and logo for their group, slap a hashtag in front of the word responsible, go live with a web address they bought in 2001, and splash their rebrand all over the web. As long as these spirits producers’ products dominate the top 10 brands consumed by underage youth (Captain Morgan, Smirnoff (Diageo); Absolut (Pernod Ricard) and Jack Daniels (Brown-Foreman), and continue to be disproportionately consumed by youth (Bacardi; Malibu rum (Pernod Ricard), we’ve got their hashtags right here: #hypocrite #alcoholharm #notresponsible #alcoholindustryisnotpublichealth

Hilarious. Replace Big Al with AJ in that first sentence, and it reads just the same. And the same can be said for those hashtags. What’s funny is they apparently can’t even see that they’re engaged in exactly everything that they’re accusing the alcohol industry of doing. It really is a case of the Prohibitionist Pot Calling The Brew Kettle Black.

meet-kettle

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