Oh you NCADD, you!

March 10, 2009

First Marilyn Manson caused the general disinterest and detachment of American youth from reality. Then Linkin Park caused Columbine. Now we can add this to the list of evils corrupting my generation: TV beer ads.

Yes, according to The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD) the thing that’s making kids drink (and do all those irresponsible things that beer forces kids to do), the thing that’s most responsible for underage alcohol consumption is advertising. That’s right: according to NCADD, before peer pressure, before alcohol being cool, before parental indifference, before social belt-loosening, before faulty education programs, before insufficient counciling programs for depressed youth — before all of these, we must address the problem of advertising. Evil, evil advertising.

For those unfamiliar, NCADD is the organization responsible for the warning labels on your bottles of beer that say things like “No drinking while operating front-end-loaders,” and “No preggers, please.” They also officially defined alcoholism in a 1992 Journal of the American Medical Association. (JAM Ass. for short.) They do good work, in other words. But man, do they have things back-asswards when it comes to underage drinking.

So NCADD has defined the root cause of underage drinking (or as they term it, the “violation of the Minimum Legal Drinking Age [MLDA]”) as nothing more or less than the influence of television and print advertising. Okay, I’ll bite: how do we go about fixing the problem, then? Well, says NCADD, we have to launch a counter-advertising campaign that reverses the impact of alcohol industry advertising. Why not ban alcohol ads outright, the way we ousted Joe Camel and the Marlboro Man? Well, NCADD doesn’t really say, but I bet it has something to do with the fact that people don’t see beer as a really bad thing, like they see cigarettes.

Not really bad, but bad enough to tax the hell out of. After all, the scope of the ad campaign that NCADD suggests puts their budget somewhere north of a gazillion dollars. To pay for it, they suggest excise taxes. As a reference, they cite a Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report study that says that the 1992 Massachusetts voter-mandated 25-cent per pack tax increase on cigarettes and the ad campaigns it paid for effectively decreased cigarette use in the Commonwealth. How do they measure consumption? “Based on reports of tax receipts for wholesale cigarette deliveries.” So never mind the idea that the average 15 packs per person per year that weren’t being consumed in 1993 might have come from beautiful tax-free New Hampshire. We taxed less, which means we sold less, which means Massachusetts residents smoked less. Right? That sounds like fishy math to me.

Of course, that study says absolutely nothing about curbing underage cigarette smoking (sorry, “violating the MLSA”), which is what we’re talking about. And NCADD seemingly refuses to acknowledge that unlike cigarettes, beer is a beverage which, when enjoyed in moderation, has not been linked to cancer, addiction, or any other health problems. In fact, studies show that moderate drinking (which, for the record, is exactly the kind of drinking that those evil beer ads encourage) actually helps improve certain health factors.

So why should we raise taxes on it, again? Let’s explore the NCADD’s reasoning:

  1. In a study done almost 20 years ago, the NIAA estimated that increasing the excise tax on alcohol by 10 cents per six-pack would decrease underage consumption by 11%.
  2. The same study reveals that the fatality rate in alcohol-related (note: alcohol-related does not mean alcohol-caused) crashes decreased in areas where excise taxes were higher. The study did NOT reveal, however, that the number of alcohol-related traffic accidents decreased.
  3. A 16-year old Gallup poll indicated that 85% of Americans favor an alcohol excise tax.
  4. In a similar 16-year old poll, The Wall Street Journal and NBC-TV News released a poll that said that 87% of Americans said they would accept a 50-cent tax increase on a 6-pack, and 85% said they would accept a $1 increase on a bottle of wine or distilled spirits.

So we’ve got a whole bunch of antiquated data which does not take into account the 2008 gas boom and the resulting price increases in alcohol, nor the 2007/2008 hops shortage which increased the price of beer again, or the 2008 economic crisis which limited consumer purchase power, and so on. I doubt that many people would be so willing to pay that extra $1 per bottle just so the government could fund a program that told kids not to drink — after all, we just elected a guy who ran on a platform of cutting ineffective governmental programs for the betterment of the country.

Besides, there are studies out there that say that kids drink as a rebellion against established culture, and nothing is more counter-culture than acting contrary to governmental suggestions. So we’re giving kids something to rebel against in this governmental advertising (even if that’s not really what it is, that’s how kids see it), and making legal, responsible, and moderate beer drinkers pay for it. And even if the counter-advertising campaign did negate the ads of the alcohol industry, it’s stupid and irresponsible to think that advertising is the only cause of underage drinking. Which means we’re taxing ourselves for absolutely no reason at all. That’s not taxation. It’s punishment.

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4 Responses to “Oh you NCADD, you!”

  1. guswinn said

    This is not really addressing the main point of your blog entry, but I’ve wondered why people in the U.S. don’t see alcohol as seriously as smoking cigarettes. Yeah, cigarettes are silent killers, but alcohol impairs judgment and sense of inhibition. People aren’t as aware of themselves and their actions.
    Also, everyone has heard of the “alcohol made me do it” syndrome. In my opinion this is only kind of true. I believe that if someone has built up anger inside of her/himself, then alcohol serves to exacerbate the anger. If one is happy, on the other hand, then this person will most likely feel even more euphoric when drinking.
    There was some research done at the University of Waterloo in Ontario involving volunteers to perform tasks while they had and had not consumed alcohol. It asked volunteers to press a button when prompted by a computer screen and were also instructed not to press it if a red light had appeared. Those who were not given alcohol were less likely to press the red button than the ones who had drank alcohol. That’s a real surprise.

    • thebeerphilosopher said

      “I’ve wondered why people in the U.S. don’t see alcohol as seriously as smoking cigarettes.”

      They don’t? My 18-year old brother can buy smokes, but not booze. When I was 16, I didn’t think twice about smoking when a cop drove by — but at 25, when I’m drinking a beer on my front porch, I hide it when a cruiser’s in sight. I’ve never heard of anyone going to jail for underage smoking, or for being under the influence of cigarettes.

      ( As an aside, the day I see a DUI-Tobacco charge in the local police blotter is the day I move to Luxembourg.)

  2. BlogMan said

    The author makes an interesting point that “it’s stupid and irresponsible to think that advertising is the only cause of underage drinking.”

    Advertising may not be the only cause, But if the advertisement is at least A cause shouldn’t something be done? Is cheap beer, a luxury item, more important to you than trying to curb the problems of underage drinking? Underage drinking is in fact a precursor to alcoholism, see http://www.focusas.com/Alcohol.html.

    Wouldnt it be “stupid and irresponsible” to ignore a cause of underage drinking just because its solution is not popular with alcohol drinkers?

    • thebeerphilosopher said

      “Underage drinking is in fact a precursor to alcoholism, see http://www.focusas.com/Alcohol.html.”

      Incorrect. The fact that underage kids who drink are more likely to become alcoholics does not mean that underage drinking is an indicator, much less a cause, of alcoholism. Young children who maim animals are significantly more likely to become serial killers — it’s the disorder within them that seeks out that behavior, not the behavior that causes the disorder. Similarly, children who are predisposed to become alcoholics seek out alcohol because they are wired to do so. None of the information available on the cited website supports your claim or refutes mine.

      “Advertising may not be the only cause, But if the advertisement is at least A cause shouldn’t something be done?”

      Absolutely. Just not on my dime. If NCADD wants to spend my tax dollars, I want a more effective approach. Take social norms marketing or alcohol education reform: I would gladly support these proven programs with my hard-earned income. But counter-advertising campaigns? Yeah, those “Above the influence” ads are doing wonders. CoughMichaelPhelpscough.

      “Is cheap beer, a luxury item, more important to you than trying to curb the problems of underage drinking?”

      No. Unfortunately NCADD’s proposal will fail to curb underage drinking. And cheap beer is much more important to me than FAILING to curb the problems of underage drinking. Exponentially so.

      “Wouldnt it be “stupid and irresponsible” to ignore a cause of underage drinking just because its solution is not popular with alcohol drinkers?”

      Yes, if taxation was the only solution. It’s not. What ever happened to soliciting donations from the general public? If NCADD wants people to pay for what they assume is a really good thing, why not beat the streets and ask people for money? If it’s such a no-brainer solution (as you, BlogMan, seem to imply it is — correct me if I’m wrong about that), then they shouldn’t have any trouble convincing people to donate to their cause, should they? Why do they need to tax me?

      Besides, “alcohol drinkers” isn’t a special interest group. It represents most Americans. And when the solution to a problem isn’t popular among most Americans, then maybe it’s time to find a new solution. Especially where it concerns spending my money.

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