• Los Angeles Considers Alcohol Ads on Bus Benches

    Watch the live video playback of the events on Friday June 10, 2011 at Los Angeles City Hall Plaza.

    When posted, you may listen to the audio on-demand playback here. Look for Public Works on 6/10/2011.

    Broadcasting Live with Ustream.TV


    Should a city use public property to advertise alcohol? The City of Los Angeles is including the idea in a new contract that would allow alcohol advertising on public property. L.A. community members have come together to propose an amended contract.


    The Board of Public Works is currently reviewing a contract that would grant Martin Outdoor Media LLC exclusive right to place advertising on city bus benches throughout L.A. for the next ten years.  The contract allows Martin Outdoor Media, a Florida-based street furniture company, to act as the city’s agent and broker for the leasing of advertising and display. In other words, the City of Los Angeles will benefit financially from the advertisements—including alcohol ads.


    The annual cost of alcohol-related harm in Los Angeles is estimated at $10.8 billion—the highest amount in California. Youth in markets with more exposure to alcohol advertising start drinking at earlier ages, consume more alcohol, and engage in more risky drinking behaviors than other youth. Youth in markets with greater alcohol advertising expenditures drink more. Alcohol advertising is already pervasive in Los Angeles, and adding 6,000 bus benches will only make the problem worse.


    Martin Outdoor Media would like to have voluntary limits for alcohol ads within 500 feet from schools or churches. But the City of Los Angeles does not have to bend to corporate dictates; as noted in Marin Institute’s 2007 study, many cities in the U.S. already ban alcohol advertising on mass transit systems. Government property should not be used to provide an opportunity for corporate marketing of potentially dangerous products, especially to youth.


    The Coalition to Ban Alcohol Ads on Public Property in Los Angeles is actively organizing to put an end to all alcohol advertisements on public property in the city. Preventing alcohol ads from appearing on bus benches is a good place to start.

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  • Article: Alcohol Marketing in the 21st Century

    A new article by Sarah Mart, Marin Institute research & policy manager, was recently published in Substance Use and Abuse. "Alcohol Marketing in the 21st Century: New Methods, Old Problems" examines the proliferation of alcohol marketing to youth with various new media and products such as alcopops and caffeinated alcohol. Click here to read more.

  • First Grade Field Trip to a Museum Named After--Beer?

    MillerGirlswCaption1Here's yet another example of Big Alcohol making a terrible idea even worse: The San Gabriel River Discovery Center Authority in Southern California is considering selling the naming rights of a children’s water museum to MillerCoors.

    The original bad idea? A plan in Los Angeles County to destroy some of the only remaining natural wetlands in order to build a massive, environmentally-destructive museum (and its parking lot) in their place.  It's like proposing to kill off the last of the polar bears in order to stuff them and put them in a polar bear museum.

    What makes it even worse: Project officials supporting the idea of selling the naming rights to an alcohol producer for the right price, whatever that is. Board member Anthony Fellow said he wouldn't mind something along the lines of “Miller Brewing Company Discovery Center." The nearby brewery, located along the San Gabriel River, makes MillerCoors a natural frontrunner in the race for corporate sponsorship. Great idea for elementary school classes to visit on their annual field trip.

    Whether it's naming rights or other types of corporate sponsorship, Big Alcohol should not be allowed to brand locations frequented by, and focused upon, children. What's more, community and educational nonprofits should not sell their mission and the attention of the children who walk through their doors to Big Alcohol's highest bid.

  • Maryland Governor Signs New Alcohol Tax

                Contact: Michael Scippa 415 548-0492
    Jorge Castillo 213 840-3336


    Maryland Governor Signs New Alcohol Tax

    $87 Million in New Annual Revenue Expected


    SAN FRANCISCO, CA (May 19, 2011) – Marin Institute, the alcohol industry watchdog, joined with allies in Maryland today in thanking Governor O’Malley and the Maryland legislature for enacting the state’s first new alcohol tax in almost 40 years. The increase, which takes effect on July 1, will raise at least $87 million a year for critical public health and education programs.

    "We commend Governor Martin O'Malley and the Maryland General Assembly for this great public health victory for our state," said Vincent DeMarco, president of the Maryland Citizens' Health Initiative. "The new alcohol sales tax increase will save lives by reducing underage drinking and over-consumption while also providing much-needed revenue to fund critical health care and community services in our state."

    Raising alcohol taxes and prices is one of the most effective public health policies available to reduce alcohol-related harm. Even heavy drinkers will consume less when prices go up. According to Professors David Jernigan and Hugh Waters of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, the 3 percent alcohol sales tax increase will prevent 14 deaths, 125 cases of aggravated assault, 26 incidents of violence against children, and almost 6,000 cases of alcohol abuse or dependence every year.

    “This victory is proof positive that Big Alcohol’s lobbying efforts to prevent sound public health policy can be overcome,”said Michele Simon, JD, MPH, research and policy director at Marin Institute. “Despite industry’s influence and generous campaign contributions, public support, hard work, and political will can still align to produce a public health success.”

    Maryland’s current rates had remained unchanged for decades, since 1955 for spirits and 1972 for wine and beer. Until this increase, only three other states had lower taxes on spirits while Maryland’s taxes on beer and wine ranked 44th and 37th nationally.

    “We hope other state legislatures and governors looking for alternatives to draconian cuts to budgets and services will be empowered by Maryland’s victory,”Simon added. “States should enact long-overdue alcohol tax increases and index them to inflation to prevent future revenue losses.”

    For more information on raising alcohol taxes, go to:


  • Study: Outlet Density and Underage Drinking

    A new study in the latest issue of Alcoholism: Clinical and Experiential Research, "The Impact of Alcohol Outlet Density on the Geographic Clustering of Underage Drinking Behaviors within Census Tracks," concluded that certain alcohol-related harm clustered within tracts with the greatest on-premise outlet density.

    Read the full article here.

  • 24 State Attorneys General Make Alcohol Advertising Recommendations to FTC


    With concern about the high and relatively stable numbers of underage drinkers in their respective states, 24 attorneys general recently submitted comments to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission regarding the collection of information from alcohol advertisers. In their letter, the attorneys general recommended that the FTC should:
    1. Seek advertising and promotional expenditure data on an ongoing and regular basis, not just intermittently;
    2. Encourage the alcohol industry to move to a standard limiting advertising to media where no more than 15% of the audience is between the ages of 12 and 20 years old;
    3. Include a brand analysis in its coming report; 
    4. Gather the facts necessary for an independent assessment of what regulatory oversight of digital and social media marketing, rather than relying solely on industry assurances of responsibility.
    Attorneys general from the following states signed onto the recommendations:
    New Hampshire
    New Mexico
    New York
    Rhode Island
    South Carolina

  • Jose Cuervo and Charade of Self-Regulation

    CuervoAdEvery so often at Marin Institute, we get a complaint from someone about an alcohol advertisement they’ve seen in their community they think shouldn’t be there. Most of the time, they’re right. In our role as industry watchdog, I’ve taken on the responsibility to report such complaints to the industry directly to get the ads removed as soon as possible. 

    However, we have made a deliberate decision to not use the industry’s official complaint process, because as we demonstrated with our report in 2008, it’s a failure and a charade.

    Instead, when it’s a spirits ad that I think is in violation of the voluntary code, I will send an email directly to Lynne Omlie, who handles such matters for the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States (DISCUS), the national trade group for the spirits industry.

    Recently, we recently received an email (with the above photo) from a concerned mother about a huge Jose Cuervo ad on the side of a building in Seattle, right across the street from her son’s middle school. (The industry’s voluntary, self-regulation guidelines say that such ads much be at least 500 feet from a school, so this was a clear violation.)

    I quickly forwarded the message to Lynne Omlie of DISCUS and copied Janet Evans, the attorney at the Federal Trade Commission who oversees alcohol advertising.

    The good news is that the ad came down the very next day. According to this letter of apology, the ad placement was the result of an “oversight” by the billboard company, which, although it had conducted a survey of the area, somehow missed this middle school. OK, mistakes happen, problem solved.

    So why are we putting Jose Cuervo, its parent company Diageo, and the trade group DISCUS in the doghouse?

    Because it didn’t stop there.

    Instead of just taking care of the matter and apologizing for the blatant error, Lynne Omlie went out of her way to tell us that this complaint would be recorded as part of the official process, despite my requests that she not do so.

    Why does this matter? Because now DISCUS gets to celebrate this incident as a wonderful “victory” of how well the complaint process is working. We complained, they took swift action, and so this must mean the system works, right? Wrong.

    How long was the ad up? Who knows? How many other ads are out there also in violation of the 500 foot rule, all over the nation? Who knows? No one studies this in any regular or scientific manner, and yet, DISCUS gets to claim the system works. Here is what Lynne Omlie told our constituent who brought her complaint to us, not them:

    Your complaint will be part of the Code’s next Semi-Annual Report and posted on the DISCUS website within the next few days. Your proactive action to address this advertisement will be highlighted in the placement tutorials at our October 18th-19th “Best Practices” Media Summit, attended by industry members from all sectors—DISCUS member distillers, non-member distillers, brewers and vintners, as well as their respective media placement companies and advertising agencies. 

    Translation? DISCUS will be using this unfortunate incident to celebrate how great their voluntary system is working. Indeed, it will become a case-study of success! They may even give themselves an award for “best practices,” they are so proud of themselves!

    Here’s what I told Lynne Omlie in response via email:

    Thank you Lynne, for your prompt attention to this matter. It is great to have such a swift resolution. However, I do need to reiterate my prior request to not turn this unfortunate situation to DISCUS' advantage by publishing the complaint as a “victory” in your report.

    All this does is further Marin Institute's position that those reports are a complete charade. How can the self-regulatory system be viewed as a success when the only cases you report on are complaints like these? It is the exception, rather than the rule, to have people [like this woman] take the time and energy to contact us. Most people don't know that's even an option. She obviously had no idea how to complain to DISCUS or she would have done so directly.

    Hardly an example of “Best Practices,” this complaint just raises the question, how many other ads are in violation that we will never even know about? Unless and until we have an independent, scientifically-sound monitoring system in place, we will never know the answer to that question. Thanks again for your speedy action. Now let's just leave it at that.

    But they can’t just, and for that, they deserve to be in the doghouse. 


  • Articles on Harm to Save for Future Use

  • AGs, City Attorney to Pabst: Dump Blast

    Marin Institute: Don't Forget Four Loko, Joose, & Tilt


    Marin Institute applauds 17 state attorneys general and San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera for their quick action to stop the latest supersized alcopop: Blast by Colt 45. “Unfortunately a number of other flavored malt beverage alcopops are also supersized,” said Bruce Lee Livingston, Marin Institute executive director. Our model legislation can help states restrict the size and alcohol content of youth-friendly alcopops and expand the 2010 federal ban on 7 caffeinated alcoholic beverages. 

  • The New Spirits "Thin-dustry"


    In an attempt to find yet another way to target the young female demographic, spirits producers have sprung new lines of premixed drinks designed and marketed to associate drinking their products with weight loss. This new trend toward spirits marketed as “low-cal” even has its own industry label: The “Thin-dustry.” This move by the spirits industry marks an obvious attempt to follow in the footsteps of the Big Beer duopoly, where for the past several years MillerCoors and Anheuser Busch InBev have seen success through marketing low-cal and low-carb beer lines targeted to both men and women.


    The new spirits “Thin-dustry” is taking a decidedly young, women-focused approach. The poster child for this new class of products is a line called “Skinnygirl Cocktails” - as if that’s what will happen to you if you drink their lower-calorie margaritas. Launched and promoted by Bethenny Frankel, a reality TV star and former ‘Real Housewife of New York City,’ Skinnygirl's marketing carefully stops just short of claiming the product actually causes weight loss. But that doesn’t stop them from exploiting the physical insecurities of American women for financial gain, by encouraging them to buy a product that will do nothing but harm the very thing they worry about most. The marketing spin for the product is perfectly encapsulated by a toast Bethenny gave in this deleted scene from her reality show that she tweeted to her fans: “Have fun, and don’t get fat and bloated.”


    Not surprisingly, the Skinnygirl Cocktail line has been very successful - it was recently acquired by Fortune Brand’s Beam Global Inc. for an estimated $120 million (the fact that Fortune recently split into subsidiaries and could be thinking about entertaining offers for Beam Global makes the Skinnygirl acquisition a particularly strategic move). The Skinnygirl deal involved the promise that Bethenny will stay involved for the sake of “creative control” (read: marketing), a great deal for Beam Global given all the free advertising they get by using a reality TV star, her TV show and profuse media appearances to sell the product. As Bethenny herself said, “I went on the show singlehandedly and exclusively for business.” As reality TV becomes more and more about the marketing of products, we'll keep our eyes peeled for increasing examples of this insidious (and unregulated) advertising by Big Alcohol.