Vol. 10, No. 1  August 1998

Why Beer Won’t Go Up in Smoke

That’s what The New York Times Magazine explored in a March cover-story on Big Alcohol. The nine-page article exposed the power and influence of the alcohol industry, declaring Big Alcohol " among the richest, savviest and best connected" political forces in America. Author Michael Massing concluded that the industry "has learned an important lesson from the tobacco wars" and adjusted its tactics accordingly. "In terms of money, influence, and connections, the public-health forces simply can’t compete [with the alcohol lobby]... Of course, that’s what was once said of Big Tobacco."

Following the lead of NYT Magazine, others have started questioning alcohol’s future in light of the ongoing tobacco controversy. In an April opinion article in The Wall Street Journal, Gerald F. Seib noted that "alcohol tends to disappear from public-policy debates" because its lobby is a "well-entrenched and well-endowed part of the Washington landscape." Referring to alcohol, Seib suggested, "It would be nice if, in the coming months of wrangling [about tobacco], everyone found a little time to ponder this nasty corner of America’s addictive tendencies."

Ironically, officials at the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy failed to get the message, launching a $200 million youth-oriented anti-drug media campaign in July that will virtually ignore alcohol, despite clear evidence that it is the principal drug of use and abuse among young people (and adults) and causes more teen deaths than the use of all other drugs combined.

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