In the Doghouse

In the Doghouse

If It Makes You Wealthy: Sheryl Crow & Treasury Wine Estates Sell Out Women’s Health


August 6, 2013

After spending years promoting women’s health causes, breast cancer survivor Sheryl Crow just signed a contract that could very well compromise the progress she has fought for.  Crow, one of the country’s top female performing artists, has entered into a partnership with Treasury Wine Estates, one of the world’s largest wine producers, to promote its brand Chateau St. Jean. As part of the deal, Crow is headlining Treasury Wine’s ill-conceived “Soak up Sonoma” promotional campaign, requiring her to take part in in-store promotions, social media initiatives, and free music downloads of her songs. Despite the focus on Sonoma, Treasury Wine is actually an Australian conglomerate whose other California brands include Beringer, Cellar No. 8, Etude, Greg Norman Estates, Meridian, St. Clement, Sbragia, and Stags' Leap Winery.
Perhaps the most hypocritical part of Treasury Wine’s campaign is its claim to health promotion.  As part of the deal, Treasury is offering access to recipes from Crow’s new cookbook, If It Makes You Healthy. The book's recipes are each paired with Chateau St. Jean wines, giving the public the impression that drinking alcohol is an essential part of healthful eating. Yet posing alcohol in this way is inaccurate at best: alcohol consumption is an important risk factor for breast cancer, even at levels of 3 drinks per week. There is no safe threshold for alcohol consumption and breast cancer risk. Treasury Wine’s attempts to link wine consumption with healthy living is the latest specific example of the dangerous trend toward questionable health claims by alcohol companies.

Which brings us to yet another troubling facet of this promotional campaign: Treasury Wine's statement that it will donate up to $100,000 to breast cancer charities, an amount associated with sales of Chateau St. Jean during the month of October. The sum pales in comparison to the economic and social cost of alcohol-attributable breast cancer in the United States, given that $100,000 would not likely cover the total costs of direct care for one woman with breast cancer during the course of her treatment. In fact, direct care specifically for breast cancer in the U.S. cost $16.5 billion in 2010.

This promotion is a classic example of pinkwashing, a term coined by Breast Cancer Action to describe corporate campaigns in which the sponsoring company positions itself as a leader in the fight against breast cancer while engaging in practices that contribute to the rising rates of the disease.  Alcohol companies that engage in pinkwashing are using a good cause to cash in, while distracting from the evidence linking alcohol consumption to breast cancer risk.

Promoting alcohol as a healthy product is a harmful public relations tactic used to grow positive feelings toward the brands, the producers, and the industry as a whole – and increase sales. With this partnership, cancer advocate Crow is applying her considerable celebrity capital to increase sales of a product that contributes to the incidence of breast cancer in women. Treasury Wine Estates is exploiting breast cancer as a public health problem, and posing as a health advocate, in order to sell more of that product.

The promotion is a mockery of breast cancer survivors and their loved ones, as well as a mockery of public health, breast cancer advocacy, and alcohol policy.

DART Misses the Mark on Transit Alcohols Ads

July 16, 2013

DARTFaced with a budget crunch in 2011, the Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) board of directors voted to throw out its commitment to public safety and accept alcohol advertisements. Initially, ambiguity in the Alcoholic Beverage Code delayed implementation of the new policy. Now the issue has been settled, and DART officials are looking to cash in. After June 14, when Texas Governor Rick Perry signed an amendment to the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Code into law that will explicitly allow alcohol advertising to be displayed on public transportation vehicles in the state, DART officials wasted no time announcing that the transit agency will now accept alcohol advertisements.

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While Beer Taxes Slide, Industry Profits & Public Health Suffers

BeerTaxMapJune 25, 2013

recent post in CNNMoney noted the wide discrepancy in state beer tax rates and implied that excise taxes harm consumers, particularly in Tennessee, which currently levies the highest rate (at $0.06 a beer, not exactly breaking anyone's bank). The post also ignored the public health and financial necessity of alcohol excise taxes, and relied heavily on alcohol industry trade groups to make the one-sided case that was presented.

Excise taxes help to reduce consumption and offset the staggering cost of alcohol-related harm in the U.S. Costs due to alcohol-related harm, including crime, disease, and injuries, add up to $94 billion annually, or $0.80 per drink--costs that are borne directly by federal, state and local governments, and paid by the public--its citizens. Federal, state and local alcohol excise taxes combined make up only $0.15 per drink. Taxpayers pick up the tab for the remaining $0.65 in alcohol-related costs.

The alcohol industry’s go-to trope - that beer taxes are regressive and harm the middle class - is simply false. One-third of Americans don’t even drink alcohol, yet they still pay the cost of alcohol related-harm not covered by excise taxes. Those with higher incomes drink more, and those who drink the most will pay the most in alcohol taxes. Finally, despite the industry's everlasting woe-is-me stance, most of the taxes that it pays are business-related, such as payroll and sales tax. These are taxes that every U.S. industry must pay.

Alcohol taxes are the single most effective policy to reduce alcohol-related harm. Raising taxes significantly reduces consumption, particularly among underage youth. Doubling the alcohol tax would reduce alcohol-related mortality by 35%; traffic crash deaths by 11%; sexually transmitted disease by 6%; and crime by 1.4%.

Tennessee’s legislature recently gave in to the Beer Institute’s influence and changed the state’s beer excise tax, based on wholesale price and linked to inflation, to a flat rate per gallon. Even as wholesale prices increase each year, the state’s revenue will decrease - and continue to decrease.  Meanwhile, as consumption rises, so will alcohol-related harm and its associated costs in the state. It’s a lose-lose for Tennessee’s coffers, as well as its public health and safety.