|Big Alcohol spends millions each year on political contributions and lobbying to dismantle alcohol regulation.
Just 6 weeks into the new year, legislative proposals to decrease or eliminate alcohol regulation abound:
Multiple bills in 5 states (Connecticut, Hawaii, Michigan, New Jersey, Washington) would reduce current excise tax rates
Ohio Rep. Dan Ramos is sponsoring a bill to increase the allowable ABV in beer from 12% to 21%, and keep the associated minimal tax rate
The New Hampshire State Senate gave preliminary approval for the Finance Committee to review a bill that would strike down a ban on alcohol billboard advertising
Bills that would expand access to alcohol have been proposed in 3 states (Kansas, Tennessee, Missouri)
In Oregon, the Northwest Grocers Association (read Costco, Walmart and Safeway) is the sponsor of a voter initiative that will be on the November ballot to allow sales of spirits and wine in grocery stores, undermining the state monopoly on sales.
Each of these proposals dismantles effective, evidence-based policies to reduce alcohol-related harm: decreased access to alcohol; state control over wholesale, distribution, and/or retail sales
; and increased prices through taxation
. Who wouldn't want evidence-based alcohol policy? Who would influence legislators to support proposals that will contribute to alcohol-related harms?
Big Alcohol, that's who. Alcohol producers have an inefficiency problem, according to economists. Having exhausted corporate reach into production
by buying one another out of market share, the easiest way producers can expand their ever-increasing profits is to make alcohol cheaper and more easily accessible. How can they do that? By controlling as much of the distribution and retail sales as possible. Big Alcohol fights tirelessly to chip away the 3-tier system that was designed to check its political power. Big Grocery, knowing that the cheaper the alcohol, the more customers in the stores, has joined the alcohol deregulation fray.
Big Alcohol and its industry trade groups exerts hefty influence on legislators, adept at flying under the public radar. Alcohol lobbyists haunt the halls of both Congress and state legislatures, spending big bucks on lobbying and political contributions. A quick look at its Congressional lobby spending in 2013 provides some telling examples:
Anheuser-Busch InBev, the world's largest beer producer, is known by the Center for Responsive Politics as a heavy hitter, one of the top 140 biggest overall donors to federal elections since 1990. A-B InBev's pet bill in the 113th Congress was the Brewers Excise and Economic Relief Act of 2013, a giant beer tax cut for beer producers.
Diageo, the #1 distilled spirits producer, ranks in the top 5% of all political contributions and 7% of all lobbying money spent.
The Distilled Spirits Council of the United States (DISCUS) spent over $5 million on lobbying and almost $77,000 on political contributions last year.
The influence bought by these lobbying activities has effectively thwarted billions in potential government revenue in tax increases, undermined state trade regulations provided by the 21st Amendment, and dismantled laws intended to protect public health by limiting access and availability to alcohol. Big Alcohol's legislative battles are not only about privatizing state control; the constant chipping away at regulations endangers public health and safety as well.
Alcohol delivered to America's doorstep, all with a credit card number and a tap of an iPhone. That's what Drizly, a start-up alcohol-delivery app service with ambitions to be the "Amazon.com for alcohol," promises. Drizly just entered into a marketing deal with Pernod Ricard, to promote its service along with Pernod products (Absolut, Jameson, and Kahlua brands, to name a few). What could possibly go wrong?
Let's start with the intent of the venture capitalist investors, who had this to say about their recent $2.25 million cash infusion into the company: "We believe Drizly is poised to fundamentally change the behavior of 225 million Americans who can legally buy alcohol, as well as the three-tier system that services them.” This investor statement is prescient, alluding to the lines between retail service and producer within the three-tier regulatory system that could get blurry without much notice under this arrangement. Drizly has already cleverly circumvented the New York State Liquor Authority’s (NYSLA) regulatory system by getting NYSLA approval despite not having a retail liquor license because of the way it set up the service payment (technically the store processes the credit card, not Drizly). This isn't the first foray into alcohol delivery apps, but it's a troubling example of a special kind of deregulatory activity, without the bother of a legislative process, or public participation in the matter.
Another troubling aspect is the potential for Pernod's marketing deal with Drizly to slide into an influential, or even controlling, interest. How much has Pernod Ricard sunk into the deal with Drizly? So far, the details are under wraps. The press release vaguely describes a new association between the liquor giant and Drizly, centered around promotion, education and brand awareness. And who is in charge when a young, new startup welcomes Big Alcohol into its circle? The multibillion global alcohol conglomerate infusing the little startup with cash, or the startup? That newly cemented relationship with Big Alcohol makes it hard to believe the app's press release statements about only focusing its online promotion and actual sales on adults who are 21 and older. In a recent study, 45% of home deliveries to underage youth were successful, many to those with fake IDs. Drizly scrambles to reassure that their delivery method is “responsible,” but, industry calling itself "responsible" is a tired marketing spin with the ironic intent of absolving the industry of any actual accountability. And despite Drizly's repeated assurances that its ID scanning technology will prevent sales to underage customers, the app can be downloaded by any 17-year-old.
It's a slippery slope from a couple of college guys who seal a marketing deal for their wannabe Amazon alcohol app, to that app (and its owners) being influenced, controlled, or even owned by Big Alcohol.
|David Pease was business manager of the undefeated 1972 Miami Dolphins. He is a prevention advocate focused on reinstating alcohol and underage drinking back into the substance abuse discussion. Having worked in collegiate and professional sports management, Pease advocates alcohol-free sports TV.
Alcohol is a powerful mind- and mood-altering drug. Yet sadly, as a nation — and worse, as parents — we are more inclined to wink at it than to acknowledge its downside risks; more inclined to laugh at and remember an Irish drunk story than to listen to and comprehend the damage that early alcohol consumption can do.
This underdisclosed damage to the myelin sheathing of adolescent brain axons — key connective circuitry that functions as the power lines of our gray matter — can have significant near- and long-term impacts on one’s cognitive ability. We owe it to our kids to get this information out.
Our reticence to listen, much less to act, traces to three powerful influencers in our society:
1) We have a low alcohol IQ in America. Government research estimates 50 percent of adult consumption and 90 percent of youth alcohol consumption is while binge drinking.
2) We harbor a strong and growing societal indifference to spotlight alcohol, and an equally strong disinclination to want to talk about it. Our prevention consciousness seems locked onto prescription drug abuse, with medical marijuana a distant second. Alcohol is continually issued a pass (dismissed as old news and not that big a deal).
3) While these aforementioned cornerstones of denial prevent voices of change or reason from getting traction, underage drinking persists across America, fueled by wave after wave of spirited beer commercials embedded in professional and collegiate sports broadcasts that “unintentionally” spillover onto our vulnerable 12- to 20-year-olds. Even after the Federal Trade Commission exerted pressure on the alcohol industry in 2003 to reign in the spillover, by 2009 the spillover had grown by 42 percent, the exact opposite of what the FTC intended.
The alcohol industry is a $129 billion per year marketing powerhouse, having patterned itself after successful marketers like Walmart and PepsiCo, where strategies,campaigns and specific commercials are heavily researched and tested. If a commercial is found to be attractive by 12- to 20-year-olds it is likely not a coincidence. It is probably referred to internally as “new customer acquisition.”
The fact sports and alcohol have become interconnected should not come as a surprise. Harvard’s School of Public Health has been tracking the phenomenon for more than 20 years.
Dr. Henry Wachsler’s quest to understand the culture of binge drinking in our colleges discovered one group particularly vulnerable to binge drink in college were high school athletes who did not go on and play at the college level.
Their sports orientation in high school prompts a shift from participation to spirited observer in college, rendering them vulnerable to all the stadium signage and televised beer commercials that predictably run on NFL, NBA and NCAA sports broadcasts.
With recent significant increases in the rights fees charged the sports networks,especially by the NFL, we can expect more costly and likely more total units of alcohol commercials to air as the networks endeavor to recoup their inflated rights fee investments.
When viewed against the national landscape, where much of our prevention infrastructure and outreach has been either dismantled, cut back or defunded in recent years, it would not be incorrect to say that the operative business model here places the growth of football and basketball revenues before the growth of the adolescent brain in America. It may not be the intent, but the inflicted damage to adolescent brain axons is no less lethal.
We need to muster the will and the courage to hold the NFL’s, the NBA’s and the NCAA’s collective and respective feet to the fire to more responsibly monitor this underreported, “unintended” spillover. Regardless of the inevitable pushback, we owe it to our kids to intervene. After all, we got them involved in sports in the first place.
From www.tcpalm.com, January 24, 2014.
|David Pease, Vero Beach, was business manager of the undefeated 1972 Miami Dolphins. He is a prevention advocate focused on reinstating alcohol and underage drinking back into the substance abuse discussion. Having worked in collegiate and professional sports management, Pease advocates alcohol-free sports TV.
The growth of ESPN since its launch in 1979 underscores the near insatiable appetite for sports in America. For many, it’s a preoccupation that can reach a fever pitch at selected times of the year (Super Bowl, Olympics, March Madness, World Series) or whenever a fan’s favorite professional, collegiate or high school team takes the field. Sports metaphors proliferate in everyday conversation and team building is revered and practiced in corporate America.
But when the lens is widened beyond the field of play, the visuals can be far from inspirational: fan violence in the stands and parking lots, recruiting violations in colleges, young boys abused by a trusted college coach, grown men bullied by a locker room culture out of control.
The impact of big money in sports today is a contributing influence. The pending NFL investigation into the Miami Dolphins locker room culture may provide some insight, but will likely not focus on the underlying business model that enables a professional football team to pay someone like Richie Incognito $235,000 per game when 40 years ago offensive linemen made about $3,000 per game. Just how are these inflated salaries being financed, and who is really footing the bill?
One person reaping the rewards of the largesse is NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, who received a $22.3 million bonus in 2011 for wielding his government-granted monopoly power to squeeze sports networks and ESPN to pay higher rights fees. These massive payments keep the league and its 32 owners buoyant while placing TV networks under the gun to sell enough 30-second commercials to recover their rights fee investment and break even.
It also ensures Budweiser, Coors Light and Miller will have continued access to our vulnerable 12- to 20-year-olds, what Big Alcohol would like us to accept as “unintended” message spillover and “unintended” new customer acquisition.
With the ongoing acquiescence of many complicit groups and individuals, including the general public, the alcohol industry has been successfully targeting young drinkers for years. Last month an analysis of 17 past studies published in the journal Addictive Behaviors found that “teens who participate in sports are more likely than their nonathlete peers to abuse alcohol."
The lead author concluded: “It starts with parents, but coaches and sporting organizations have a critical role to play here also if adults are looking the other way, we need to do something about it!”
The question is: Will the pending NFL investigation into bullying be allowed to isolate alcohol as a contributing factor, putting an unwanted spotlight on the $22.5 billion worth of alcohol consumed by minors in America each year? At the moment, the $129 billion alcohol industry has many of us happily winking away the problem of underage drinking, while helping line the pockets of the complicit NFL commissioner, the 32 owners and 2,000 active players.
I’m betting the league will divert our attention elsewhere, perhaps to the laudable work it’s doing to protect the brain functionality of it’s 2,000 players from concussive injury. Regrettably, the more widespread problem of alcohol-induced damage to the brains of 11 million underage drinkers in America who also watch NFL games on TV will be “unintentionally” promoted; promoted as these impressionable young targets sit through an average of four to six spirited beer commercials per NFL broadcast, and more on Sports Center.
As a frequently used phrase from ESPN’s popular Sports Center show exhorts: “COME ON MAN!”
Just how long can we pretend not to connect these dots? The alcohol industry lobby is well funded and powerful, but it is not invincible, witness how the tobacco industry was finally reigned in by the Senate back in 1994. Let’s show our kids what responsible adult behavior looks like and encourage the Senate to replicate that tobacco initiative, this time placing the alcohol company CEOs on the stand to address the underage drinking health crisis in America. Let’s invite senior officials from the NFL, NBA and NCAA to testify as well.
If we all had a head coach’s red flag in our pocket, we could throw them in unison now. It’s time the nation sees red when the topic is alcohol and kids.
From www.tcpalm.com, January 8, 2014.