CSPI Reaction to CASA Study
Statement of Alcohol Policies Project Director George A. Hacker
May 2, 2006
The latest study by The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University (CASA) adds to a mountain of growing evidence that the alcoholic-beverage industry cannot be trusted to regulate itself nor be expected voluntarily to give up advertising and marketing aimed at attracting its principal profit centers: underage and adult excessive drinkers.
It should come as no surprise that an industry that derives nearly $50 billion in revenues from underage and adult pathological drinking has opposed almost every major public health measure designed to reduce alcohol problems, and that it has attempted to cover its tracks by preaching personal and parental responsibility in a myriad of ineffective education programs that smack more of public relations than serious prevention.
The take-away messages from CASA’s report are clear. Self-serving “responsibility” campaigns by alcoholic-beverage producers or their trade groups are no substitute for effective government regulation of the advertising and marketing of alcoholic beverages. Government agencies should not involve industry in program and policy development. Efforts to reduce alcohol problems, such as running media campaigns, monitoring and enforcing standards for alcohol advertising and sales, and providing information to parents about underage drinking, should – as recommended by the National Research Council in its 2003 report on preventing underage drinking – be entirely independent of industry influence.
Knowing the sheer magnitude of the industry’s financial stake in underage and excessive adult drinking – even if it’s a few billion more or less than CASA’s estimates – should also help Congress better understand industry opposition to long-overdue tax increases and an independent, adequately funded national media campaign to prevent underage drinking. Hopefully, Members of Congress and federal regulators will in the future more skeptically consider invitations to participate in slick public relations events to highlight industry’s role in combating such problems as underage drinking or dangerous drinking by young women.
CASA’s analysis serves as a strong reminder also to college presidents and the NCAA that their collaboration with beer marketers to promote drinking to college students (many of them underage) and other sports fans undermines the values of sports, the principles of higher education, and their efforts to address rampant and costly alcohol problems in higher education.