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Who’s fooling who? The truth about alcohol and litigious lobbyists

January 17th, 2018

 

 

“A lot of people are deeply dissatisfied by the diminishing control they have over their lives, because of the way our system of government is set up, to cater to the powerful, cater to the wealthy, cater to the corporations, and not to the individual citizen.”

~ Josh Fox, director

Do you know how much litigious alcohol lobbyists spend each year trying to convince governments and local bodies to relax attempts at alcohol restraint? Where one party is motivated by creating safer communities, the other appears to be motivated purely by sales-driven, self-serving profit.

Let me be clear, I’m not against alcohol companies, and I don’t believe a nice drink now and then is an abhorrent evil. What does get my backup is underhand tactics, misinformation, and self-interest at the expense of others.

According to figures published by the Center for Responsive Politics in 2017, the total lobbying expenditures for Beer, Wine & Liquor was a staggering USD $22,607,510—and this is just the money that was reported.

Incentives and kickbacks to aid and abet favorable practices abound in many industries whose primary goal is to maximise profits and returns to shareholders. The owner of our local liquor store, for example, was rewarded for selling the highest volume of 1125ml bodies of rum with an all expenses paid trip to Jamica. That’s quite a juicy incentive to up the volume on sales.

Booze barons and the companies they create operate similarly to banks—fair weather friends while you’re spending but less than benevolent when you’re drowning in debt or reeling under the costs of alcohol-fuelled harm.

Here are just a few things that alcohol lobbyists strongly oppose:

• Advertising and promotion constraints

• Alcohol control—including raising the legal age for drinking

• Increases in product-specific taxes (designed to offset harm or reduce consumption)

Let me give you several home-grown examples of how lobbyists can exert their influence.

In 1999 the legal purchasing age in New Zealand was lowered from 20 to 18 and despite several calls for legislation against the change, and repeated attempts to raise the drinking age again, it’s proven easier to reduce the drinking age than it has to raise it.

Lawmakers continually and overwhelmingly support the status quo and the age remains 18. MPs, swayed by lobbyists in argued, “If we say to people that you can vote, you can marry, you can fight for your country and you can die, then logically you shouldn’t say to them you shouldn’t drink in a public bar.”

Compelling logic if one accepts that teenagers, should go to war and ignores the issue that alcohol is a highly addictive drug.

Phil Goff, the Labour justice spokesman at the time of the changes, vehemently argued for a tightening of the 20-year age limit, citing overseas evidence linking increased road deaths to lower ages, and also citing public opinion polls that were against a lower age.

But the research was rejected as not relevant to New Zealand.

Maori Pacific MP Tukoroirangi Morgan said he had seen on marae and hui the results of young people drinking and driving.

“It would be a tragedy if this House was to say yes we will lower the age to 18. You may as well go and shoot 75 young Maori,” he said.

Almost a decade on and the concerns of Morgan’s and other opponents of lowering the drinking age concerns are well-justified. Along with alcohol-related deaths from drunk driving, domestic violence assaults resulting in death, 2012 statistics reveal 119 Māori deaths from suicide—accounting for 21.6 percent of all suicide deaths in that year. Alcohol is said to have been a contributing factor in many of these tragically avoidable deaths.

Add, to these sobering statistics the appalling and imbalanced incarceration rates and you’ll quickly appreciate the escalating harm caused by alcohol. In New Zealand Māori make up only 14.6 percent of New Zealand’s population, but a staggering 51 percent of its prison population.

Prominent businessman Gareth Morgan wants to see the age limit raised. “It was lowered in 1999 to appease the alcohol lobby, and we were promised at the time that if evidence showed harm went up after the change they would reverse it,” Morgan said, in an article in Fairfax Media.

“All of the evidence, all of the reports, have pointed unambiguously to harm going up.”

Research showed the lowering of the age had resulted in the “de facto” drinking age falling to between 14 and 17, Morgan said.

“The data is showing us that in secondary schools six out of ten students are drinking. Nearly half of them consume more than five drinks in each session. And one in five are saying the aim to get drunk. That’s where the problem is.”

Similarly, in 2012, former New Zealand Justice Minister Judith Collins met liquor industry lobbyists repeatedly in the weeks before the Government’s controversial U-turn on measures to restrict sales of alcopops, official papers revealed by Fairfax New Zealand.

The documents, released under the Official Information Act and published in 2012, reveal the extent of the pressure exerted by the industry, including a joint letter to former National Prime Minister John Key warning him his Government was about to “make a very serious and highly public mistake”.

The industry hinted that legal action was possible if the crackdown went ahead.

In late August the Government backed away from its plan to ban the sale of RTDs (ready-to-drinks) with more than 6 percent alcohol from off-licenses.

Instead, the Government gave the industry the right to draw up its own RTD code of conduct.

In the following chapter, you’ll discover how alcohol companies profited from the sale of RTD’s to society’s most vulnerable—including children as young as 12.

Collins said in announcing the back down: “Frankly, I think we can stop treating everyone as though they’re fools and can’t make decisions for themselves. It was a bit too much taking away people’s responsibility. About 80 percent of New Zealanders drink extremely responsibly.”

Really? The alcohol industry regulating itself to reduce harm? Until there is are disincentives from them to keep increasing the volumes of alcohol consumed, such as a public turning of opinion, it is highly unlikely they will operate against their own interests. This sounds like the same ineffective logic applied to the sugar barons.

Unsurprisingly the sugar barons are also powerful lobbyists—ones not beyond using a raft of diversion tactics. For example, during the ’50s, when colas and junk food begin to gain traction, the US sugar lobby managed to divert the onus for children’s obesity on dairy products, while their flunkeys invented a narrative about cholesterol and harmful fats.

Saying people, who can’t control alcohol are ‘fools’ and should be able to make informed choices is akin to saying people should be left alone to decide whether to wear a seatbelt in a car or a safety helmet while riding a bike on the road. Statistics reveal that lives are saved, and harm reduced, when laws are introduced to help people to help themselves.

One may well ask, where are the booze-barons when people are shelling out a fortune for rehab? Where are they when people are so sick they cannot work? Who picks up the tab when a beloved mother, father, son, daughter, friend dies of alcohol poisoning, alcohol-related cancer, or at the hands of a drunk driver?

 

Equity, Fairness, and Justice—let’s level the field

Do these booze barons pay an equitable share of tax? Are the costs of social harm factored into ongoing costs to individuals, families, and communities?

Who, for example, is going to pay for the childcare costs, mortgage payments and healing of the psychological trauma inflicted on Abdul Raheem Fahad Syed’s wife and child?  This innocent man, a beloved father, and husband was working to provide for his family when he was killed in a horror smash by a ‘joy-riding’ teen just before Christmas in 2017?

https://www.stuff.co.nz/national/crime/100147307/one-person-killed-two-flee-scene-of-auckland-car-crash

Who will pay the hundreds of thousands of dollars of judicial and penitentiary costs when the 20-year-old drunk, driving an expensive late-model BMW is sentenced? The Government? Why?  He is charged with careless driving. Why not murder? We all know the dangers and risks of driving drunk.

I’m being provocative, I know. But I’m not alone. In the following chapter, you’ll discover research conducted by The University of Western Australia in 2016 summarising the revenues generated by exercise taxes, and questioning the fair allocation of the burden of harm.

 

Nobody’s  fool

Mindful drinking is not only being aware of why you drink, how much you drink, and how to regulate or control your drinking—but also becoming aware of the powerful economic forces lobbied at encouraging you to drink more, and disempowering individuals from making rational, positive choices.

Mindful drinking is also a commitment to refusing to remain blissfully ignorant and becoming aware of the horrific and escalating costs of alcohol harm, and deciding whether you want to be part of the problem—or the cure.

Is all this new knowledge enough to cause you to rethink your relationship to alcohol? I hope so. With knowledge comes wisdom.

 

Your feelings matter

Heightened knowledge may not be the total catalyst to sobriety, but it has played a large part in mine, and also my devotion to this book and spreading the truth about alcohol.

Feelings, as you’ll discover in the book, matter. They are the gateway, the portal, to transformational change. When you feel compassion, empathy, sadness, rage, love for those who suffer needlessly, and this includes yourself, you will find freedom from alcohol. In the chapter, Get Angry, I look at how healing and cathartic channeling your anger into a higher purpose can be. You’ll also learn how the New Zealand Police were taken to court by local government (The Wellington City Council)—and the ridiculous reason why.

Throughout Your Beautiful Mind: Control Alcohol, we’ll also explore ways to heal the past and exorcise unhelpful emotions that keep you stuck in a cycle of destructive feelings.

As Candace Pert writes in, Everything You Need to Know to Feel Go(o)d,  “Buried, painful emotions from the past make up what some psychologists and healers call a person’s ‘core emotional trauma.’

“The point of therapy—including bodywork, some kinds of chiropractic, and energy medicine—is to gently bring that wound to gradual awareness so it can be re-experienced and understood.

“Only then is choice possible, a faculty of your frontal cortex, allowing you to reintegrate any disowned parts of yourself; let go of old traumatic patterns, and become healed, or whole.”

In the next chapter, we also explore why we are incarcerating so many people with drinking problems and the need to spend more money on offering treatment and support.

We’ll then take a peek into the darker, and fascinating side of advertising.

Specifically, we’ll look at the psychological warfare and advertising ploys booze barons use to manipulate you to act against your best interests. Just when you thought you were in control!

My aim is not to scare you sober, but perhaps you’ll feel a sense of relief, as one person said, “It’s great to finally understand I am not to blame.”

One day, this same person may encounter, Judith Collins and say, “Hey, Judy, I say wanted to say—I am nobodies fool.”

 

 

This is an edited extract of Cassandra Gaisford’s new book. Be the first to know when Your Beautiful Mind: Control Alcohol, Discover Freedom, Find Happiness and Change Your Life, is released here—http://eepurl.com/cQXY4f

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