Journal Report Exposes "Voice" of Big Alcohol

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In a report for the February issue of Addiction (press release here), a researcher criticizes the relationship between “Big Alcohol” and state regulatory bodies. The report looks at the 2010 meeting of the National Conference of State Liquor Administrators (NCSLA). They hold an annual meeting to discuss policy issues relating to liquor sales and marketing, the regulatory environment and legislative matters.

According to the report, the meeting was dominated by liquor company representatives. Sarah Mart, the author, says that of the 187 in attendance, 72% were from the alcohol industry and that 65% of panelists were as well.

Her main criticism is that the NCSLA meeting doesn’t focus on health and safety. Mart was the only participant representing public health policy.

The danger, from her perspective, is that regulators, both federal and state, are being swamped with only one perspective on alcohol use – the sales side. She said, “The NCSLA is dominated by the public, global companies that produce, import, distribute and sell alcohol.”

For those who followed the tobacco company lawsuits and subsequent fallout, this has a familiar ring to it – an industry that sells a harmful, but legal product, seeks to keep as tight a control as possible on all aspects of regulation. Mart claims that the event was “really about the industry’s agenda.”

While there is nothing on the near horizon, it is quite possible that one day, alcohol manufacturers will have to pay for some of the social costs of their products. For alcoholic beverages, that amounts to billions a year. In alcohol related deaths alone, there are some 79,000 a year – about a sixth of the smoking related deaths.

Like cigarettes and other tobacco products, alcoholic beverages are directly taxed by states and represent income for state coffers. One part of the state government might see higher sales as a benefit, while simultaneously, the health services side of the same state government would see an uptick as a problem. Mart is calling for other voices at the table – those more concerned with public health than tax revenues.

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