In the Doghouse

In the Doghouse

Binge Pink: Keeping Alcohol Away from Breast Cancer Charities

A drip of pink paint down a wall.Breast cancer threatens the health of millions of women worldwide, and the pink ribbon is widely recognized as a symbol of hope, awareness, and action. This has resulted in an “all hands on deck” mentality, where any offer of support is welcome as part of charity events and campaigns. Many fundraising events, however, rely on alcohol as an inducement (or even raison d’etre) despite the substantial role drinking plays in exacerbated the risk of breast cancer.

Although the events themselves have their hearts in the right place, the alcohol industry's eager participation creates real problems. San Francisco-based watchdog group Breast Cancer Action has coined the term "pinkwashing" to describe a company or organization that claims to care about breast cancer by promoting a pink ribbon product, but at the same time sells products that are linked to the disease. “Any company can put a pink ribbon on its products," said Karuna Jaggar, Executive Director of Breast Cancer Action. "The widely recognized pink ribbon symbol is not regulated by any agency and does not necessarily mean it effectively combats the breast cancer epidemic. In fact, many companies sell pink ribbon products that are linked to increased risk of breast cancer.”

Alcohol Justice has already detailed the industry's widespread complicity in pinkwashing tactics, wherein companies use breast cancer awareness to receive significant marketing exposure, celebrate alcohol use, and directly target their products at young women—heedless of the carcinogenic consequences of drinking. These problems are compounded when the alcohol industry sponsors, piggybacks on, or serves as the focus of other organizations' pink ribbon events. Through in-kind donations, open bars, drinking festivals, and other forms of sponsorship, alcohol companies don’t just promote their product, they promote the idea that greater consumption is a social good regardless of the cancer-causing effects of frequent drinking.

"Cancer charities need to reconsider any marketing partnerships and sponsorship relationships with alcohol brands," said Alcohol Justice Executive Director/CEO Bruce Lee Livingston. "It's exploitative and disrespectful for these brands to benefit in sales and exposure when they are making the problem worse."

According to the American Cancer Society, women who have two or more drinks per day have a 50% increase in their risk of breast cancer. For attendees to justify the admission price for beer festivals and open bar events—which can run $50 or more—they will have to consume much more than two drinks.

As the pink ribbon becomes more and more prevalent in the philanthropic landscape, it creates more potential for these kinds of self-defeating actions. Breast Cancer Action established the Think Before You Pink website to provide guidelines for evaluating breast cancer charities, partners, and events. Among other axioms, they advise consumers to ask themselves, “Does this purchase put you or someone you love at risk for exposure to toxins linked to breast cancer?” With alcohol in general—and frequent or binge drinking in particular—the answer is an unqualified yes.

This is not to preclude all beer or spirits companies from engaging in social responsibility surrounding breast cancer. However, these companies need to limit themselves to unrestricted cash contributions and keep their logos out of materials linked to the causes they are supporting. Considering the messaging, the risks, and the importance of combating breast cancer, these events should celebrate life, perseverance, and hope, not binge drinking.

Mr. Livingston presented on pinkwashing as part of the 2016 Wisconsin Alcohol Policy Seminar on October 20th, 2016. The slides from his presentation are available here.

Michelob Now Claims that Beer Equals Health

Doctor Mike, spokesmodel for Michelob     traDoctor Mike likes to work out. Doctor Mike likes to throw himself into his work. Doctor Mike likes to give back to the community. And Doctor Mike likes to drink.

This fictional tippling physician is the creation of Michelob Ultra, a low-calorie “super-premium” beer. In a two-page ad spread in Travel & Leisure titled “All in a Day’s Work (and Play),” the doctor is shown in equal parts working out, reaching out, and letting off steam with a drink. It’s all part of megabrewer AB InBev’s plan to equate alcohol with health and exercise.

“The brand is really positioned around this active lifestyle space,” Joe Lennon, brand director for the beer, told Bloomberg Businessweek. “Our target consumer is somebody who makes a conscious effort to live that healthy, active lifestyle but still enjoys time with friends and having a few beers.”

Michelob Ultra follows a growing trend of alcohol manufacturers advertising by claiming their products can promote health, weight loss, or physical activity. These claims fly in the face of the well-studied and well-documented risks of long-term use. Chronic drinking greatly increases the risk liver disease, damage to the heart and circulatory system, multiple forms of cancers, pancreatitis, and stroke. It can also change mood and behavior—making it harder for Doctor Mike to forge the patient bonds the ad says he values, or to deliver a persuasive pitch to raise funds for his charities.

A stubbly chest and torso with a stream of yellow Michelob Ultra poured over it

Michelob’s reckless resident also conveniently ignores alcohol’s short-term effects on his own athletic performance. A review in Nutrients detailing the effects of alcohol during and after exercise explained that alcohol in the body disrupts metabolism and protein synthesis, preventing the body from recharging its energy stores and rebuilding muscles. (The authors also note that alcohol itself is treated as an energy source by the body—no matter how “lite” the beer, alcohol is calories.) But athletes don't need to have to look at biochemistry to see the oxymoron within the idea of an "athletic lifestyle" brew. The NCAA distributes educational materials warning of alcohol’s propensity to derail training, citing:

  • Dehydration and accelerated fatigue
  • Loss of motor skills and strength for up to 72 hours after use
  • Increased body fat
  • Nutrient deficiencies
  • Compromised immune system and delayed healing
  • Sleep disruption

All of the above are major impediments to reaching peak athletic form—and in some cases, to simply being happy day-to-day.

With all that in mind, AB InBev’s offers to let its customers (per Bloomberg) “[paddleboard out and] board the Miami party boat in June, jog through New York City in July, or climb a beachside cliff in Southern California in August” are just offers to lose the benefits of their hard work—and in the long run, maybe suffer worse consequences. After all, having graduated medical school, Doctor Mike should already know that physicians fall victim to alcohol disorders just as often as the rest of us.

FURTHER READING: Outside magazine on drinking and exercise.

Torso photo by Eva O'Leary for Bloomberg Businessweek.

The Two Corporate Sponsors in the Doghouse on AB 1322

August 23, 2016

Drybar Doghouse Revised
Two companies, the Drybar Company and 18-8 Fine Men’s Salons, worked behind the scenes in Sacramento to pass the irresponsible AB 1322.

The bill, nicknamed The Drybar Bill (authored by Tom Daly - Anaheim) will allow unregulated, unlicensed, free beer and wine to be served at 42,000+ beauty salons and barber shops throughout California.

We're putting these corporate sponsors in the Alcohol Justice "Doghouse" for their support of unlicensed, unregulated alcohol consumption and the inevitable increase in alcohol-related harm that will occur in California by increasing alcohol outlets by 41%.

The bill passed with only 6 "NO" votes out of 40 state senators and 80 assembly members. Here are the state senators who deserve our thanks:
  • Steve Glazer (D-Orinda)
  • Isadore Hall III (D-Compton)
  • Ed Hernandez O.D. (D-Azusa)
  • Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara)
  • Mike McGuire (D-Healdsburg)
  • Jim Nielsen (R-Gerber)
  • Jeff E. Stone (R-Temecula)
Take Action! Tell Gov. Brown we need his VETO to stop the irresponsible AB 1322 NOW!