Seemingly innocent marketing gimmicks deployed by global giants in the alcohol industry have profound and lasting effects that could be detrimental to our children. Our kids today are bombarded with promotional beer products when they attend sports events, watch television, or listen to the radio. Advertisements that sell alcoholic beverages by way of talking animals or scantily-clad women are unavoidable on billboards, newspaper stands and kiosks in most every city and kids are not immune to its message: that underage drinking is not only okay, it’s cool.
Two bills that would permit alcohol industry giants to entice young and new drinkers with clever promotional tools and products have made it to the Governor’s desk and deserve a veto. AB 1245 (Torrico) and AB 2293 (De Leon) will undermine carefully placed regulations that are critical to the safety of California’s youth.
Under the guise of allowing greater competition in the marketplace, these bills would not, in fact, level any playing field. Instead, they would increase the promotion, market share and profitability of primarily only two—Anheuser Busch and Diageo— manufacturing mega-conglomerates at the expense of the health and safety of California’s youth.
The author and sole supporter of AB 1245, Anheuser-Busch, argues that California’s economy is at a competitive disadvantage to other states that have higher or no limits on beer-related promotional giveaways. The bill seeks to raise the limit by 1,200%. Yet Anheuser-Busch, consistently sells more beer than any other manufacturer in the state. In 2007 alone, beer sales for Anheuser-Busch totaled $5 billion.
AB 1245 is a special interest bill that serves the interests of one global company over those of Californians, who are ironically the sole constituency legislators that were elected to serve. The “inconsequential” limit currently set on promotional items becomes very relevant when manufacturers hand out t-shirts, caps and coolers to bait new drinkers that may retail for upwards of $15, even if it costs them only $3 wholesale.
In addition to increasing the amount of money allowed to be spent on ‘swag’ to promote alcoholic products, another piece of legislation would also send a confusing message to youth about unabashed alcohol consumption. AB 2293 would allow large, alcohol company-sponsored private events to offer unlimited amounts of free alcohol to party attendees. A bill that does not limit the amount of free alcohol provided to party goers is an irresponsible piece of legislation.
AB 2293 is not only an example of the author’s disservice to Californians; it also would impose major fiscal impacts to cover annual oversight and enforcement for the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, something we simply cannot afford in this multi-billion dollar budget deficit year.
If passed, AB 1245 and AB 2293 would impale the collective efforts of other legislators, community leaders, advocates and youth who have been working tirelessly to reduce the growing epidemic of binge drinking and other alcohol-related harms among California’s youth.
The Governor must veto both AB 1245 and AB 2293. Public health and safety must never take a back seat to increasing the market share and profits of irresponsible alcohol producers.
-Michael Scippa is the advocacy director for the Marin Institute, which monitors the alcohol industry