Sunday, April 8, 2007

The Booze Merchants - The Inebriating of America

By Michael Jacobson, George Hacker, & Robert Atkins
ISBN 0893290998

Reviewed by Katy P.

There's no clouding of the issues in this 1983 report from the Center for Science in the Public Interest. The authors take a clear stance from start to finish: most marketers of alcohol are underhanded, deceitful, and act with ill intent. While there is sound evidence in the form of reports from the Federal Trade Commission, examples of print and television advertisements, and facts and figures from various studies, the report is a bit overkill. Published in 1983, over two decades ago, the information is somewhat stale and the reader is never sure if the stated problems are still problems today. The book does, however, raise a relevant point in any day and age -- advertising entices the public. People should, at the very least, be aware of that. This report serves as a good reminder to not buy in to everything you read and see.

The forward was written by Nicholas Johnson, a former Federal Communications Commissioner. Johnson doesn't pull any punches in his introduction of the topic. He sets the tone for the entire report by stating his opinion unequivocally: he proposes a ban on all advertising of alcohol in the U.S. The reader can expect the rest of the report to be colored with this proposition in mind.

The book goes on to discuss alcohol as the number one drug problem in America. It cites numerous studies from several advocacy groups to back its claims. The authors argue that alcohol industry advertising and marketing is mostly to blame for the epidemic. They say children, problem drinkers, and women are targeted by industry ads and are hypnotized, lured into regular drinking habits and pushed to drink more.

The research is thorough and the points are well thought. The report builds its arguments conclusively. The problem arises when facts and figures are augmented with statements of opinion and slanted adjectives. Throughout the report, the authors include copies of alcohol advertisements to punctuate their stance. Some of these ads are captioned with descriptions from the authors. For example, one ad description reads, "Dignity is thrown out the door by the makers of "Wild Irish Rose" in this sexually suggestive ad." The ad in question is a photo of young ladies in shorts and tank tops holding bottles of wine. The phrase "dignity being thrown out the door" seems a bit dramatic and exaggerated, considering the tame content of the ad.

The report is, overall, filled with interesting facts and insights, but it's a dry read (no pun intended.) Written as a report, it has the same matter-of-fact posturings as a report, with a few harsh criticisms thrown in here and there. If you have interest in the subject and can brave it, you'll most likely find thought-provoking arguments. It does allow the reader to give more thought to the questions; Are alcohol marketers trying to get more people to drink, and are they trying to get drinkers to drink more? The report calls for a ban on alcohol advertising as part of a comprehensive, coordinated attack on our society's alcohol problem. I'm not so sure it's that simple, but akin to the tobacco wars, it's a point not to be discounted.

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