In the Doghouse

In the Doghouse

International Alliance for Responsible Drinking: Giving Global Alcohol Producers a Voice, Again

July 9, 2015

With announcements for its new web site and public statements from its president/CEO, the International Alliance for Responsible Drinking (IARD) continues its quest to give alcohol producers a voice.

Oh, wait a minute - that was the tag line for the Global Alcohol Producers Group (GAPG), half of the merger with the International Center for Alcohol Policies (ICAP) that created IARD. The new industry tag line is about action on alcohol and global health.

To anyone familiar with the alcohol producer responsible drinking and corporate responsibility shell game, this is nothing new. Alcohol producers have a new group, name, CEO, and website. The 12 alcohol producers behind IARD (Anheuser-Busch InBev, Asahi Group, Bacardi, Beam Suntory, Brown-Forman, Carlsberg, Diageo, Heineken, Kirin, Molson Coors, Pernod Ricard, and SAB Miller) also funded ICAP and GAPG.

Big Alcohol producers believe IARD will allow them to engage even more with all key stakeholders and influence alcohol policies around the world. As we've seen through the last several decades, that influence means fighting the most effective population-based alcohol policies available, including increased alcohol prices/taxes, reduced access and outlet density, and reduced exposure to alcohol advertising and promotion.

IARD influences policymakers by shifting them away from alcohol as a cause for harm, placing the responsibility for alcohol-related harm solely on drinkers (and in the case of youth, their parents/guardians), all the while growing producer credibility on alcohol policy and regulations throughout the world.

With 3.3 million annual deaths worldwide (5.9% of total) and 5.1% of the global burden of disease due to alcohol, we can't wait for IARD to lessen its grip on promoting its funders' actions to influence alcohol policy worldwide. IARD is not a public health NGO.

A-B InBev & its Marketing Won't Take No for an Answer

May 13, 2015

As two of its recent campaigns illustrate, A-B InBev doesn't like to hear the word "no" when it comes to marketing its products. As part of its Bud Light - Up for Whatever campaign, the company released bottles with labels proclaiming Bud Light "the perfect beer for removing the word 'no' from your vocabulary." On the heels of the provocative slogan came a new campaign with the Statue of Liberty on Budweiser labels, for which the National Parks Service waived its longstanding policy against promoting alcohol consumption.

After the Up for Whatever labels that sound like a pro-date-rape slogan (with multiple layers of A-B InBev approval) were released, astounded social media dubbed Bud Light the Official Beer of Rape Culture. The brand's PR machine made it worse by issuing an excuse-laden statement, making light of the serious implications of the slogan and claiming the company didn't mean any harm. A-B InBev also claimed the labels didn't present a public health or safety risk and did not pull the bottles from the shelves, despite an outcry from advocacy groups pointing out the clear and consistent role of alcohol in incidents of sexual assault, particularly on college campuses.

This just the latest incident where Bud Light promoted ignoring "no." Last September, complaints from Crested Butte, CO residents were ignored when A-B InBev took over the town for a weekend-long Bud Light-branded party.

A-B InBev's marketing arrangement with the National Parks Service waives a policy, in place since 1988, prohibiting donations from companies that would identify the NPS with alcohol or tobacco products. But the company to obtain a waiver under the guise of supporting a NPS Find Your Park centennial public awareness campaign. Clearly A-B InBev wants to increase public awareness--of its product. The NPS branding campaign clearly targets a new, young demographic with the idea that drinking Budweiser is patriotic, an integral part of outdoor recreation, and promoted by the U.S. government.

Given the ever-increasing harm caused by excessive alcohol consumption in the U.S.--nearly 88,000 deaths annually, including more than 4,300 underage youth; $293.5 billion in economic harm; and 4% of U.S. cancer deaths -- A-B InBev needs a vocab lesson. No means no.

Another Social Responsibility Fakeout from Diageo

April 27, 2015

Diageo recently heard from public health advocates in Ireland who pushed back, and hard, against the spirits-conglomerate-funded "Stop Out-of-Control Drinking" campaign. The spirits giant used its influence to dominate everything from:

The last item Diageo attempted to influence, minimum pricing, is an evidence-based intervention that expert public health researchers have concluded would be most effective to reducing alcohol consumption in the country. In protest, board members representing public health stepped down from the campaign and multiple organizations withdrew their support, citing the World Health Organization's position that industry should not have a place at the table in formulating public health policy, as it will only support weak alcohol policies favorable to its business interests that are unlikely to reduce harmful alcohol consumption.

After the enormous public pressure, Smith finally stepped down . But Diageo still sponsors the campaign, and advocates point out that the Diageo influence will certainly continue. The campaign is not likely to have much impact (if any) on reducing harmful drinking.

"Drink responsibly" campaigns are a win on every level for the alcohol industry. Such campaigns allow alcohol producers to blame youth, parents, and anyone but their own corporate actions for the staggering health and economic harm from alcohol products, while making alcohol companies look socially responsible. Until Big Alcohol is removed from the public health policy process, its ability to quash evidence-based policies that reduce alcohol related harm such as increased pricing/taxes, advertising and marketing restrictions, and reduced access and availability, will continue.