Anti-Government Women's Group Touts Free Speech, Ignores Cost of Harm

Drinking Cost

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

A November 15 Forbes op-ed on alcohol marketing to women is anti-regulation rhetoric of the Independent Women's Forum (IWF), which dismisses the public health perspective on alcohol-related harm and effective alcohol policy. The op-ed wasn't about the amount of harm women experience from alcohol, or how to reduce it. Narrowing the issue to those who are addicted to, or dependent on, the substance fails to address the breadth and cost of harm caused by alcohol and ignores evidence-based policies for reducing such harm.

Alcohol consumption is the third leading cause of preventable death in the U.S., resulting in 80,000 deaths each year from injuries, traffic fatalities, and violence, as well as chronic disease. Taxpayers bear the costs from alcohol-related harm, which includes crime, disease, and injuries. The part of these costs borne directly by federal, state and local governments adds up to $94 billion annually, or $0.80 per drink. Federal, state, and local excise taxes combined add up to only $0.15 per drink, and taxpayers are burdened with the rest. Higher alcohol taxes, when applied to all alcoholic beverages, result in higher prices and reduce excessive consumption, and appropriately place the cost of alcohol-related harm on the producers. Increasing alcohol taxes is the single most effective policy available to reduce alcohol-related harm.

The culture of alcohol mentioned in Forbes was not built in a vacuum--it is a direct outcome of aggressive marketing. In addition to the epidemic of alcohol harm, the industry has created a pandemic of alcohol marketing, strategically and pervasively infusing alcohol advertising and promotion into every aspect of U.S. culture. It’s certainly not limited to TV ads-–we are saturated with celebrity alcohol brands, sports sponsorships, and so-called philanthropic endeavors, among others. Alcohol corporations target the female demographic with harmful messages encouraging them to drink. Underage youth, including young girls, are also disproportionally exposed to alcohol advertising. As a result, those who see more alcohol ads start drinking earlier, drink more, and are more likely to develop problems with alcohol in later life. Alcohol producers should not have free reign to market a harmful product while they are held blameless for its negative outcomes. Public health protections are necessary to mitigate the behavioral norms created by ubiquitous marketing, and to reduce the related harm.

Putting the onus on the drinker to be responsible ignores the fact that alcohol companies produce and market a product that causes staggering health and economic harm, and industry doesn't pay anywhere near the amount that it should. In fact, alcohol producers use “drink responsibly” as a marketing tactic to sell more alcohol. The IWF and its anti-government rhetoric defends and excuses the alcohol industry's role in creating grievous harm to people worldwide. Given the amount and cost of alcohol-related harm, why should taxpayers subsidize the industry whose products hurt them?