Big Alcohol has done its best to portray its products as distinctly different, or less harmful, than smoking cigarettes. Although smoking does kill more people each year, it doesn’t mean the alcoholic beverage industry is exactly innocent. Just follow the money…
Not only has Big Alcohol used some of the same cunning marketing and “educational” tactics as Big Tobacco, the two businesses are often closely intertwined, more so than you might suspect. For example, for over thirty years Miller beer has been associated with Philip Morris (best known for Marlboro cigarettes and a subsidiary of Altria.) In fact, about 27% of SABMiller has been owned by them in recent years and has included board members who are directly tied to Philip Morris/Altria. And while on the surface they appear to care about “drinking responsibly,” industry insiders and researchers know that creating a “forbidden fruit” primes the next generation of customers (whether they’re underage or not.)
The alcohol industry and its power players’ seemingly insatiable quest for profiteering doesn’t stop there though. Some iconic corporations have:
- Been fined for price fixing
- Pressured their way into major sports events
- Worked to weaken regulations meant to protect the public
- Developed sweet “alcopops”, which often appeal to young people
- Been known to implement serious tax avoidance strategies
- Attempted to block legalization of marijuana (medical or otherwise)
They’ve even been criticized for undermining attempts made by Native Americans living on reservations to create sober communities as well as contributing to human rights abuses, war, and poverty (particularly in developing countries.)
The Risk of Assault & Fatality
When it comes to drunk driving or buzzed driving in the United States, someone actually dies every 48 minutes. What we’ve deemed as “normal” drinking rituals for so long can not only cut someone’s life short through accidents and toxicity, but the connection to violence is something we all need to work together to help heal as well. Consider the fact that approximately 97,000 students between eighteen and twenty-four years old are victims of alcohol-related date rape or sexual assault each year. In addition to those disturbing numbers (and the real lives that are affected) 60-70% of domestic abuse cases are tied to alcohol use as well. There’s no doubt that underlying issues can factor in with sexual or physical abuse, but alcohol is often needlessly fueling the fire.
Why Big Alcohol Needs to Pay Up
When it’s all added up, it’s not surprising that alcohol is the third leading cause of preventable death in America or that Big Alcohol has a hand in over $223.5 billion dollars of alcohol-related harm every year in the United States. Given that, many critics suggest they ought to be paying for damages the way Big Tobacco was forced to instead of all of us taxpayers being held responsible year after year.
Of course, that would take tremendous public and political pressure (something we’re overdue for.) Not only does Big Alcohol do its best to avoid paying for direct and indirect damages, some of these corporations don’t even want to pay basic taxes. Case in point, in developing nations Tackle Tax Havens estimated in 2010 that up to 20 million pounds (around 29.6 million in U.S. dollars) had been denied to treasuries due to SABMiller’s tax approach. That’s enough to have placed a quarter of a million children in school.
How Alcohol Ads Can Exploit Women & Influence Kids
What’s more difficult to quantify is how alcohol advertisements can damage our psyche. After all, they frequently objectify women and even Photoshop their images to become part of the alcohol itself (like a bottle of beer.) We need to ask, “Is this the kind of imagery we want little boys or girls to be exposed to through billboards or magazines?” People often laugh or cringe at old cigarette ads. Many agree it’s time to see alcohol ads for what they really are and move them to relics of the past.
Speaking of marketing, keep your guard up for clever messaging that targets women in the industry’s quest for boosting alcohol sales. Remember the wine brand, MommyJuice? It depicted a beautiful cartoon mom on the label juggling it all while seemingly meditating. Meanwhile, Skinnygirl cocktails continues to go straight to the core of many women’s apprehension with drinking by implying that low-calorie alcoholic beverages won’t sabotage weight loss or weight management goals. You could dismiss these brands with a sense of humor, but the truth is there are much better ways to unwind from the demands of parenting or to lose weight. Ditching frequently consumed wine and cocktails of any kind is a great place to start.
Holistic Secret: The Surgeon General’s 2016 report stated that even one drink of alcohol per day may increase the risk of breast cancer. So, if you’ve been drinking wine for antioxidants, focus on berries and vegetables instead. If you’re looking to de-stress, set aside a little time to practice deep breathing, aromatherapy, or meditation instead.
Alcohol Corporations & Brands
There are thousands of brands which make up Big Alcohol and the alcoholic beverage industry. Typically they’re owned by a select few. For example, 5 beer makers own 50% of the world’s beer. Here’s an idea of some of the best-known multinationals that have concentrated power and a strong hold in the marketplace. Chances are, the most iconic brands you can think of are owned by them.
- Anheuser-Busch InBev – the largest beer brewers worldwide (merged with Grupo Modelo and then SABMiller)
- SABMiller – one of the largest beer brewers worldwide, plus they merged with Anheuser-Busch
- China Resources – owns Snow Beer (from China), which is the best-selling beer in the world
- Carlsberg – 4th largest beer company in the world
- Molson Coors Brewing Co. – 5th largest beer brewer worldwide
- MillerCoors -one of the largest beer brewers in the United States (as a single entity) and owned and controlled by its two parent companies, Molson Coors Brewing Company and SABMiller
- Pernod Ricard -2nd largest spirits and 4th largest wine producer worldwide
- Diageo – sells over a quarter of premium spirits worldwide
- Constellation – by volume, the largest producer of wine worldwide
- Heineken International -2nd largest brewer worldwide
- Bacardi Limited – largest privately held company that sells alcohol worldwide
Note: There are additional corporations not listed here who still have major sales and political as well as cultural influence. You can always look up “who owns _____” and find out more.
The Shocking Ingredients Allowed in Alcoholic Beverages
Since the Department of Treasury regulates alcohol (instead of the FDA) companies aren’t required to disclose their ingredients. Not only has Big Alcohol taken advantage of this ridiculous allowance they’ve aggressively lobbied politicians to keep the status quo. Fish bladder and ingredients linked to cancer? Read more in 12 Shocking Ingredients Allowed in Alcoholic Beverages and learn which labels to look for instead.
The Environmental Impact of the Alcohol Industry
While certain companies would like us to focus on how they’re using less glass to bottle their beverages, others are quietly failing at meeting their own goals for reducing energy use, greenhouse gas emissions, and landfill waste. Probably the most offensive point of discussion is how corporate giants, like Diageo, have donated to water charities in African countries while simultaneously using and polluting massive amounts of it through their locally contracted or owned breweries. For example, effluent and broken glass were discharged by a Ugandan brewery into Lake Victoria (the second largest freshwater lake in the world) at deplorable rates. The levels often surpassed recommended limits by ten times until updated treatment plants were installed. Meanwhile, thanks largely to Tanzania Breweries, the Msimbazi River was described as being “practically devoid of life” by one report focused on East African water pollution. However, it’s not just the waste that’s a real threat. Even U.N. members have complained about public water supplies being diverted to breweries.
Whether you find it unacceptable that the alcoholic beverage industry and their products have a reputation for jeopardizing our safety or health, being financially associated with the Tobacco Industry, avoiding their fair share of taxes, putting profits above sustainability, or objectifying women in advertisements, use your purchasing power to help reshape the system. If you buy alcohol, consider buying less and from genuinely smaller companies (rather than seemingly local microbreweries owned by multinational corporations, as an example.) Going organic is ideal to reduce the risk of pesticides and unwanted additives. Lastly, if you’re interested in marijuana as an alternative, follow the money as Big Alcohol, Big Pharma, and Big Tobacco continues to make investments in the cannabis market.
Let your voice be heard through at least one of these action ideas too:
- Tell state legislatures, as well as transportation departments, to ban alcohol ads on public property in order to discourage kids from early drinking and frequent drinking.
- Also tell them to catch up with the global standard by updating the allowable blood alcohol content from .08 to .05 to help reduce DUI injuries and fatalities.
- Request that local businesses stop offering alcopops (RTDs or FMBs), which have been deemed “cocktails on training wheels.”
- Contact sports associations such as the NFL and NBA and ask them to abandon alcohol-related sponsorships, ads, and celebrity endorsements. This is particularly important for younger viewers and aspiring athletes.
- Urge celebrities to refrain from doing endorsements and ads that promote alcohol consumption.
For more info on Big Alcohol check out the industry watchdog AlcoholJustice.org
My mission: As a Holistic Health Coach & Eco Expert, I’m dedicated to leading you straight to the core of what it takes to enjoy a new level of vitality, desired weight loss, sustainability, and detoxification. Enjoy my transformative programs and experience true health with true purpose!
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 BBC News. BBC.com. “US tribe sues beer makers for $500m over alcohol abuse.” February 10, 2012. Accessed October 5th, 2015. http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-16976700
 IOGT.org. “Big Alcohol And The War In Congo” by Maik Dünnbier. November 9, 2013. Accessed October 5th, 2015. http://iogt.org/blog/2013/11/09/heineken-and-the-war-in-congo/
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