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Councilmember Englander Ignores Requests to Discuss L.A. Alcohol Ad Ban

EnglanderDecember 14, 2012

It is regularly an uphill battle trying to reduce alcohol harm in our communities. If we want to make a difference, we have to be in it for the long run. For a year and a half, the Coalition to Ban Alcohol Ads on Public Property in Los Angeles has been organizing to pass a motion to ban alcohol ads on city-owned and controlled property. As research continues to find, youth exposure to alcohol advertising is strongly related to negative public health outcomes: youth start drinking earlier, consume more alcohol, and experience more alcohol-related harm.
 
Recently, the efforts of the coalition received validation from several nationally-respected research institutions. Along with Alcohol Justice, the UCLA Alcohol Research Center, the Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth, RAND Corporation, and the director and health officer for the County of Los Angeles submitted letters to Los Angeles City Councilmember Richard Alarcón, the legislative sponsor of the motion, outlining why advertising alcohol on city property is a bad idea. All of the letters supported an alcohol advertising ban on public property in L.A.
 
If there is community support for the campaign, and research demonstrates that alcohol ads on public property contribute to underage drinking, then what has blocked the motion from moving forward? Answer: City Councilmember and Public Safety Committee Chair Mitchell Englander.
 
Since the motion was introduced into the Public Safety Committee in August 2011, Coalition members have requested to meet with Councilmember Englander seven times. Hundreds of community members have signed petitions and sent letters to his office regarding the motion, yet he has not responded to the requests. Other Public Safety Committee members have been more receptive to meeting requests, but those committee members have expressed that only the chair of the committee can move the motion forward.
 
Meanwhile, the Los Angeles City Ethics Commission has made public that the lobbying firm Englander, Knabe & Allen recently began representing JC Decaux North America, the only company with city contracts that allow alcohol advertising. The founding associate of the firm is a family member of Councilmember Englander. Coalition members have asked for an investigation to clarify if the relationship between Councilmember Englander and the lobbying firm Englander, Knabe & Allen constitutes a conflict of interest with regard to the motion.
 
At a press conference two weeks ago the Coalition took the opportunity to air questions about Councilmember Englander's potential conflict of interest, for failing to move the motion to ban alcohol ads on city owned and controlled property out of committee. When Coalition members also confronted Englander after that day's City Council meeting, he stated that he would not meet with the coalition because they made a potential conflict of interest public. Coalition members told Englander that he has ignored their requests for 16 months and counting, and that they weren't surprised at his pronouncement that he would not meet with them. Coalition members also made it clear that all they wanted was an investigation into a possible conflict of interest.
 
The concerns of the coalition are not without reason. As the Public Safety Committee Chair, Councilmember Englander can agendize a hearing or table a motion at will and stop it from being heard by the City Council. The French owned company JC Decaux advertises alcohol on city property to make profits and, as  a consequence, youth in the city are bombarded with ads promoting alcohol, while taxpayers pay for the resulting alcohol-related harm. If a member of Englander's family were to lose money as a result of the motion being passed (or even heard in committee), and in his position as committee chair Englander can ensure that the motion is not heard, that could be construed as a conflict of interest.
 
In this uphill battle, the Coalition to Ban Alcohol Ads on Public Property in Los Angeles is determined to fight the influence of special interest groups and see that public health and safety rule the day. What will Councilmember Englander do? Meet with Coalition members who have requested to speak with him? Agendize and allow a hearing for the motion to ban alcohol ads on city property? Or will he continue to deny meeting requests and committee chair responsibilities?

Doghouse: A-B InBev Complains about Bud Brand in "Flight"

flight 1November 27, 2012

Alcohol corporations want us to believe that their brands are the source of success and attraction; that no person was ever hurt by drinking their brands; that alcoholics only drink moonshine, cane liquor, malt liquor or fortified wine; and that their popular brands are never the culprit of dangerous drinking, deaths, or any other alcohol-related harm.


Anheuser-Busch InBev recently exposed this hypocritical and nonsensical view of the world by complaining about its Budweiser brand appearing in the movie “Flight," in which Denzel Washington plays a high-functioning addict pilot who drinks Budweiser while driving. A-B InBev had the audacity to ask Paramount to blur or remove the Budweiser brand from the film. A-B InBev wants to be the one that decides when its brands can be shown in films, claiming that they can only be shown in "responsible" situations. This is the same A-B InBev that brought advertising and sponsorships to professional sports sixty years ago, and continually pays for celebrity sponsorship and product placement in movies and television.

Paramount stood its ground and has not responded publicly to A-B InBev's bullying, and has not announced whether it will give in the beer producer's demands for video or international release. Paramount and Hollywood need to stick to their guns and show brand names at when depicting drinking. Of course, it would be better if film and television showed much less drinking, and fewer alcohol commercials. Barring that, they should not be pressured by the industry to avoid showing brand names of the big beer duopoly or any other kind of swill.

A-B InBev apparently doesn't want an artistic or accurate portrayal of the real world, where people regularly consume their brand-name drug. Real people don’t drink bottles with a made-up or smudged out logo. If an American is drinking a beer product in the U.S., chances are that it's made by the big beer duopoly of A-B InBev and MillerCoors. We have a loosely-followed “equal-time rule” for elections; one that states major candidates for office should be given equal news time on television. How about an “equal-time rule” that requires showing alcohol-related harm – death, violence, family fights, rape, cancer, and others – proportionately by brand name?

A conservative estimate for alcohol-related deaths in the U.S. is 79,000 each year; alcohol-related harm cost the U.S. $223 billion in 2006 (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). A-B InBev sells about 48% of the beer in the U.S., and beer is 49% of alcohol by sales and therefore 23% of alcohol sales in the US. That 23% market share can be applied to the harm. Isn’t it reasonable to estimate that there are 18,000 “Anheuser-Busch-related” deaths in the U.S. each year, and A-B InBev costs government and the public $51 billion annually? If A-B InBev has a problem with my estimates, it can offer its own estimate of which alcohol brands are causing the harm and death, and by what percentage. The Budweiser tag line “Enjoy Responsibly” doesn’t sound joyful to the loved ones of 18,000 deceased each year.

Isn’t it surprising how radical it seems to name the corporations and brands that cause harm?  The alcohol industry built a firewall around itself legally and ideologically by claiming its support for "responsible drinking." It blames individual consumers for alcoholism (and all other harm), and never the environment of alcohol consumption that it creates for its brands. Big Alcohol keeps U.S. alcohol taxes low, at rates that are a fraction of some European taxes; advertises whenever and wherever it wants; creates products that are designed to be attractive to youth; and blames bar tenders, and parents, and youth, and drunk drivers. Big Beer never shoulders any of the blame itself.

Names are important.  Budweiser is not a Missouri-based company. It is incorporated in Delaware and is a subsidiary of A-B InBev, headquartered in Brussels. It is controlled by Brazilian management, headed up by Carlos Brito, CEO. Why does that matter? It's important to understand that this international company wants to place--and does place-- its brand name in sports, film, television and the internet throughout the world. While it pays its billions of dollars in acquisition debt, it wants to remain blameless in death, preventable disease, alcohol addiction, and underage drinking. Carlos Brito, you and your Budweiser brand have responsibility for harm, and should not control where your product is shown in film or television scenes where harmful drinking takes place.

 

 

New York Gov. Cuomo Honors Alcohol Industry

CuomoSummitNovember 6, 2012

It reads like an Onion story, and yet it’s all too true: Last month, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo invited alcohol producers to Albany for a summit about alcohol. Not to discuss how to the industry leaders can help reduce alcohol-related harm, as the public might hope to see from the leader of a state with major drinking problems. No, the Governor's state summit honored alcohol producers for their contribution to the state’s economy.  The summit was held at Governor Cuomo’s Executive Mansion, and featured an elaborate tasting room where more than 2 dozen wineries, breweries, and distilleries offered samples.


Besides commending the “phenomenal growth” of the New York State alcohol market, Governor Cuomo also committed $3 million from the state's coffers to fund ad campaigns for the alcoholic beverages. You heard that right: New York taxpayers will be subsidizing additional alcohol advertising, which leads to increased consumption and related harm. The producers and their products being advertised with taxpayer dollars are the same ones that already cause billions of dollars in economic harm each year. We have to wonder what the people who lost their homes to Hurricane Sandy think about that.

The story is so ludicrous, it's nearly laughable. But rather than a joke, it is another example of politicians pandering to the powerful alcohol industry in ways that directly subvert the interests of--and harm--their constituents.