In the Doghouse

In the Doghouse

Big Alcohol Is #COVIDwashing the Vaccine

The public health community often sections off its prevention efforts on two types of harm: communicable and non-communicable disease. Communicable diseases are contagious, e.g. bacteria and viruses. Noncommunicable diseases are the consequences of lifestyle harms, e.g. drug overdose and heart disease. CoVID-19 threatens to be the defining communicable disease crisis for half the world's population. Alcohol harm forms a long-standing, ever-increasing threat to every generation.

Leave it to Big Alcohol, then, to shove the latter on those trying to deal with the former.

As the COVID-19 vaccine gets widely distributed in the United States, global alcohol corporations are taking note and taking advantage. Annheuser-Busch InBev, fresh off a remarkably sleazy lie over donating all of its Super Bowl ad space to vaccine awareness, is now offering free beers to anyone providing proof of vaccination. That proof must be provided online along with full name, email address, and date of birth. This is not so Budweiser can verify vaccine status (legally, Budweiser can't do that regardless), it's so they can collect marketing information.

Faux craft brewer Sam Adams is doing the same in exchange for an Instagram bump. The state of New Jersey is doing the same, and while most people not from Philadelphia agree there is less harm derived from promoting New Jersey than from promoting alcohol, state sponsorship of drinking threatens to create more lasting concerns. All of these associations between drinking and COVID-19 vaccines create a three-fold problem.

First, they are #COVIDwashing. For the past year and change, the United States has been awash in alcohol companies trying to increase their profits amidst increases in binge drinking and psychological distress. State governments have been complicit in this, culminating in legislative disasters like California's current attempts to massively deregulate alcohol sales. And the worst companies (Annheuser-Busch, you're up again) have attempted to directly tie alcohol to public health.

Second, alcohol use has likely worsened the scope of the pandemic.  Alcohol suppresses the immune system, making heavier drinkers more likely to contract the virus and develop higher viral load. Densely packed bars and clubs have created the ideal spaces for person-to-person transmission, especially when intoxication makes it easier to neglect social distancing, masking, and other protective behaviors. On top of that, alcohol causes inflammation, and lung inflammation--specifically, suffocation as inflamed lungs fill with pus and fluid--is the primary driver of death from the disease.

But the worst aspect of this is the threat that alcohol may impair the development of immunity. Heavy drinking very clearly inhibits immune response, and having a strong initial immune response is fundamental lasting immunity. It is not clear that one free beer makes a difference, but following it up with two incontrovertibly puts a damper on immune function.

The pandemic still blazes worldwide, including in the United States. The vaccine shows promise to slow the tide of harm. The country still needs real leadership, however, to not help Big Alcohol--the merchants of a harm that every generation experiences, and which will never have a vaccine.

Pop Scrapes Bottom: Ashanti's Instagram Markets Liquor to Youth

a screencap of an Ashanti instagram post where she praises CirocSocial media is the domain of the young. Adults like to think they understand the digital world, that they use sites like Instagram and TikTok in a savvy and smart manner, but fact of the matter is, most of these sites are vastly more popular among teens. So when pop star Ashanti promotes Ciroc--a flavored hard liquor--she may claim she's talking to adults even while her words fall on underage ears.

The above post, from earlier this year, was posted to her Instagram account. According to Sprout Social, two-thirds of 18-29 year-olds use the service, as do nearly 3 out 4 13-17 year-olds. That is to say, the majority of non-legal drinkers are liable to be inundated with alcohol ads in this manner. Research shows that pop music is a major vehicle by which underage fans get exposed to pro-alcohol messaging. And these messages stick: a major review of the literature by the Alcohol Research Group shows that exposure to these messages directly causes underage drinking.

Time and time again, Instagram has facilitated these celebrity endorsement deals, as have SnapChat and, increasingly, TikTok. Social media is, for all intents and purposes, a town square, and one whose use by Big Alcohol is limited only by a set of voluntary restrictions. (Incidentally, much of the time, the actual town square is also subject only to these voluntary restrictions.) The mechanism through which compliance with these restrictions can be monitored or enforced is based almost entirely on public pressure, but the entire nature of phones are to be private. So when Big Alcohol chases a pop icon to sing its praises online, that all but guarantees wide-open young ears and eyes, with consequences to youth and none to either the retailer or endorser. Indeed, it takes an overt act as stupid as pouring hard liquor into your cereal to draw public outcry.

Ashanti, her cheering friend Fat Joe, DJ Khaled, or any other celebrity should not be expected to report the age demographics of their listenership. While we would hope they would be smart and civic-minded enough to be cautious in their endorsement deals, ultimately it is the brands themselves that need to be held accountable. Alcohol Justice calls for Ciroc and all other liquor producers to end youth-targeted celebrity campaigns. Time for them to grow up and let the kids have their world for themselves.

ABI's Monopoly Moves Must Be Stopped

monopoly beerWatchdog Bruce Lee Livingston Calls for CA AG Investigation of Anheuser-Busch InBev Anti-Competitive Takeover of LA Beer Distributor

Alcohol Justice Executive Director/CEO Livingston today requested a full-scale investigation by Attorney General Xavier Becerra of the attempted takeover of Ace Beverage LLC in Los Angeles. There is a federal court order enjoining Anheuser-Busch InBev (ABI) to not take over more than 10% of the wholesale beer distribution in the US. However, if this gobbling up of a Los Angeles wholesaler takes place, ABI will control 40% or more of the beer distribution market in California. Mom-and-pop retailers could see price wars, craft brews could be forced off the beer trucks, and illegal promotions and swag could be pushed on beer outlets and bars. Outgoing ABI CEO Carlos Brito could be furthering monopolistic practices in seeking global dominance, at the risk of LA small businesses and vulnerable wholesalers. The antitrust California Cartwright Act and case law need to be invoked to start a full-scale California look-see into Big Alcohol's pursuit of monopoly practices.  

READ MORE about Alcohol Justice's call to stop the ABI takeover

READ MORE - full text of the Alcohol Justice complaint letter