|October 2, 1997
For more information:
Contact: George Hacker at
(202)332-9110, ext. 343
Propaganda Misleads Public About Drinking
Marketing Campaign (Disguised as
Research Findings) Boosts Wine as a Health Food -- Says CSPI Report
In a continuing barrage of press releases, research updates, and
website postings, the California Wine Institute has mounted a steady, misleading publicity
campaign to promote the health benefits of wine consumption, according to a 20-page report
released by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI).
"Disguised as objective information based on recent
research," said CSPI alcohol policies project director George Hacker, "the
Institute's propaganda spreads the deceptive and potentially dangerous message that
moderate drinking -- especially moderate wine consumption -- is an important factor in
maintaining all-around good health for the general public."
The CSPI report, Vintage Deception: The Wine Institute's
Manipulation of Scientific Research to Promote Wine Consumption, acknowledges that
moderate alcohol consumption is associated with reduced risk of coronary heart disease for
some individuals, but criticizes the Wine Institute's promotion of other, less conclusive
findings. It exposes how the Wine Institute manipulates research evidence to highlight
reasons to drink, but fails to report evidence of alcohol's ill effects.
"There is no health magic in wine," said Sheila B. Blume,
M.D., addiction psychiatrist and former New York State Commissioner on Alcoholism. "I
would never recommend that anyone begin drinking because alcohol has many destructive
health effects. Physicians simply cannot predict with any certainty who will become a
The CSPI report urges health professionals, government officials,
journalists, and the public to scrutinize the Wine Institute's commercial propaganda
carefully and skeptically.
CSPI examined a year's worth of Wine Institute publications and
found numerous exaggerated and one-sided claims about the health effects of alcohol and,
particularly, wine. The analysis found that the Wine Institute relied on an unpublished
laboratory study to suggest benefits to humans from chemicals in wine and regularly
omitted the cautions and qualifications about alcohol consumption made by researchers
whose findings it cites. The Institute failed completely to mention the many health risks
of "moderate" or heavy alcohol consumption.
"Twisting the findings of scientific research to convince
consumers that they should drink for their health may help sell more wine," said
Hacker, who co-authored the report. "However, increasing alcohol consumption will
increase rates of alcohol problems, even if some older adults cut their risk of coronary
"Not everyone will benefit from moderate alcohol consumption;
for many, their risks of alcohol problems will rise, even if they drink moderately.
Furthermore, there are healthier ways to achieve similar cardiovascular benefits -- like
exercising, eating a better diet, and quitting smoking."
In France, often touted by the wine industry as a model
wine-drinking society, high wine consumption translates into severe levels of alcohol
problems. The rate of coronary heart disease may be relatively low, but deaths from
alcohol-related digestive diseases and cancers, as well as unintentional injuries, are
excessive, recently estimated at nearly 25% of all premature mortality. Official
government policy in France, as in the United States, calls for reductions in alcohol
In the United States, alcohol is the third-leading cause of
premature death; its use and abuse result in more than 100,000 deaths annually and impose
more than $100 billion in economic damage on society.
The CSPI report provides a detailed, side-by-side comparison between
numerous Wine Institute statements on several research topics and contradictory or
qualifying references from the actual studies. It notes clarifying comments from the
studies' authors and cites health advice on alcohol offered by government and private
health agencies, whose reports the Wine Institute has ignored or distorted. The report
covers Institute communications concerning wine consumption and women's health, the
alleged cancer-fighting potential of wine, overall health effects, and the alleged health
benefits of wine over other types of alcoholic beverages.
Journalists: Copies of the full report are available from CSPI. Call
(202) 332-9110, ext. 385.
CSPI is a nonprofit health-advocacy organization that focuses on
alcoholic-beverage problems, nutrition, and food safety. It is based in Washington, D.C.,
and is supported by foundation grants and the one million subscribers to its Nutrition Action Healthletter. It does not accept
industry or government funding. CSPI led efforts to win passage of the law requiring
warning labels on alcoholic beverages and has halted several deceptive marketing campaigns
for alcoholic beverages.
The Wine Institute's Manipulation of Scientific Research to
Promote Wine Consumption Executive Summary
Under the guise of "education," the Wine Institute has
launched a publicity campaign to sell more wine. The wine industry's pronouncements about
scientific findings of the benefits of moderate alcohol consumption have saturated the
media and entered the public consciousness. This "one size fits all" propaganda
subverts public health policy and misleads the public about the advantages of drinking.
The wine industry's message overstates the case for wine and spreads
potentially dangerous advice that could lead to higher alcohol consumption, with
correspondingly higher levels of alcohol problems. Although moderate alcohol consumption
has been associated with a reduced risk for heart disease for some people, alcohol does
not benefit all people and certain individuals should avoid it altogether.
An analysis of Wine Institute publications, including recent
Newsflashes, Research News Bulletins, Special Media Advisories, and its website, found
that the Institute has:
- made exaggerated claims about the health benefits of alcohol and
- suggested human health benefits from wine on the basis of an
unpublished laboratory study;
- regularly omitted the cautions and qualifications made by researchers
whose studies it cites;
- and failed completely to mention the health risks of alcohol
A few examples of the Wine Institute's manipulation of research
- One chart on the Institute's website (www.wineinstitute.org) asserts
that studies have found moderate alcohol consumption may have beneficial effects on the
common cold, kidney stones, Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease, cognition and
memory, pancreatic cancer, and many other conditions. The evidence for those benefits is
preliminary, inconclusive, and contradicted by other research, yet the chart portrays wine
as a virtual panacea. Neither the chart nor the website make any mention of wine's
potential addictiveness or any of the serious and widespread health and safety problems
linked to moderate or heavy drinking.
- A January 1997 Wine Institute Newsflash headline boasts that
resveratrol in wine acts as an anti-cancer agent. Although it identified the study as
preliminary, the release ignored critical facts that temper the implications of the
research. It failed to disclose that the mice in the study consumed resveratrol equivalent
to the amount found in human consumption of five gallons of wine per day. It ignored the
fact that scientists have found no evidence that the resveratrol could be absorbed into
the human bloodstream through food or wine consumption. Other prominent researchers were
unable to detect resveratrol in human bloodstreams, even after giving subjects "huge
amounts of red wine" high in the compound. Wine Institute coverage of the study also
omitted the authors' express reservations about the adverse effects of long-term alcohol
consumption and their specific recommendation of foods and non-alcoholic beverages derived
from grapes as preferable dietary sources of resveratrol.
- In May 1997, the same month that an editorial in the scientific
journal Epidemiology counseled women to avoid alcohol to reduce their breast cancer risk,
the Wine Institute issued a Special Media Advisory suggesting that moderate wine
consumption is not associated with increased risk of breast cancer. The advisory failed to
report that the studies did not rule out the possibility of breast cancer risk at moderate
levels of alcohol consumption or that they contradicted several other research findings.
The Media Advisory ignored other factors that could have accounted for the finding of
lower risk of breast cancer among moderate wine consumers. The report even excluded the
opinion of the authors of one of the studies it cited. Those authors concluded that their
study supports "the hypothesis that alcohol intake is a cause of breast cancer. A
lifetime average of even one drink per day appears to be associated with a modest increase
in risk." The American Cancer Society and government health agencies have cautioned
women, especially those with a family history of breast cancer, to limit their alcohol
Health professionals, government officials, journalists, and the
public should scrutinize the scientific research and the Wine Institute's commercial
propaganda with great care. Journalists should be skeptical of Wine Institute reports,
actively seek balance on issues raised by industry pronouncements, and provide additional
information on problems related to alcohol consumption. The Institute should not be
considered a reliable source of public health advice for the nation.
This report was authored by Laura Steinhardt and George Hacker.
Ms. Steinhardt, a Yale undergraduate, interned at the Center for Science in the Public
Interest in the summer of 1997. George Hacker directs the Alcohol Policies Project at
The full Vintage Deception report is available for $5.00 plus $3.50
s/h. Contact CSPI's Alcohol Policies Project,
or call 202/332-9110, ext. 385, or mail $8.50 to: CSPI -- Alcohol Policies, 1875
Connecticut Ave. N.W. Suite 300, Washington, DC 20009.