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Ralph Nader > In the Public Interest > It Takes Two to Addict

Consumer groups have always had difficulty with two of the major health abuses rampaging through the country–alcoholism and tobacco smoking. The reason for such difficulty is not the absence of neither reckless corporate promoters nor the dearth ofevidence for the harm that these substances cause millions of people. The reason is the phenomenon of addiction.

Very few consumers welcome defective cars or filthy food products. But chronic cigarette smokers and drinkers very often are resentful at being urged to reduce their hazardous habit, and at being ostracized, as in non-smoking sections. Those people who freely admit their addictions and their intention to abide by them can be even more unreachable. Sometimes the afflicted become angry and fight back against local ordinances designed to prohibit smoking in certain public gathering places. It all does not add up to an easy consumer preventive health strategy.

There are some Americans, however, who refuse to stop thinking about ways to prevent the deaths of several hundred thousand fellow citizens a year from the ravages of cigarettes and alcohol. Such a person is Michael Jacobson, a microbiologist and director of the Washington-based Center for Science in the Public Interest. He has issued a report called ‘The Booze Merchants: The inebriating of America” which is premised on the belief that it takes two to addict.

Focusing a strong ray of light on the alcohol industry, Jacobson demonstrates how much of the nearly $1.5 billion it spends a year on advertising is designed to increase drinking per parson and by more people. Four chapters of the report are titled: “Targeting the Heaver Drinker”, “Targeting the Young”, “Targeting the Light Drinker” and “Targeting Women.” Pictures of ads are placed throughout the report to illustrate the points. The strenuous techniques alcohol companies apply to saturate college campuses ranging from paid student representatives to underwriting major campus social and athletic Activities with ads and promotions, is particularly revealing.

Jacobson writes that “the intent and effect of these promotional activities is to make alcohol an integral part of the college experience… While college presidents wonder what to do about student alcohol abuse, the industry is busy preying on this market and its heaviest drinkers.”

The Booze Merchants concludes with a series of recommendations directed toward stopping or restricting deceptive alcohol marketing and advertising practices. The study also urges greater taxation on alcoholic products with some of the proceeds going to educational and rehabilitation efforts. Federal excise taxes have not been raised on alcohol since 1951. Jacobson recommends the disallowance of deductibility for alcohol as business expense, such as for’ business entertainment. He calculates these tax changes could raise about $30 billion in new revenue annually. (The report can be obtained- -for $5.95 by writing to the non—profit Center for Science in the Public Interest, 1755 S Street, N14, Washington, DC 20009).

In another circle of concern, it appears that the fast—growing movement known as Mothers Against Drunk Driving are going to direct some of their efforts toward the liquor industry and its share of responsibility for these daily highway tragedies. Certainly the industry wants to grow and for that to happen more people have to drink. The bill is astounding: according to the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment, “the economic cost of alcoholism and alcohol abuse…may be as high as $120 billion annually.”

On the cigarette front, attention is turning once again to the tobacco companies. A group of Senators and Representatives–both liberals and conservatives–are pushing for a much tougher warning label on cigarette packages and ads. At a recent World Conference on Smoking and Health Southern Illinois University Law Professor, Donald W. Garner, outlined a powerful case for renewing civil litigation against the tobacco companies on behalf of victims. The Congressional drive to have cigarettes manufactured to burn out more quickly and thereby reduce the hundreds of lives lost yearly to cigarette-caused fires continues to build momentum. And in one of the more courageous displays of journalism, the Louisville Courier—Journal (right in a tobacco state!) printed several revealing articles, including one on their study of cigarette advertising practices. The newspaper’s finding: “indications that American teenagers are being targeted for the smoking habit.”

Help and counseling for’ the addicted consumer of alcohol and tobacco need to be expanded. But additional attention can be placed as well on the clever perpetrators who profit from their knowing drives for greater consumption. It takes two to addict.