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Washington Report

February 2004

Produced by the Alcohol Policies Project of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, Washington Report provides online information and updates about federal and state alcohol-policy issues, including alcohol advertising and marketing, labeling, product development, taxation, and industry political and commercial initiatives.  Washington Report also provides action alerts to inform advocates of opportunities to promote and influence pro-health alcohol policies.

In this Edition:

Federal Developments

Advocacy News

Industry Watch


Federal Developments


'Alcohol Facts' Labels Will Allow Consumers to Assess Alcohol and Calorie Intake

For information related to Federal Policy, please contact Kim Miller, Manager of Federal Relations

Related Links:

CSPI Press Release

Petition [PDF]

Letter to Tommy Thompson [PDF]

CSPI Action Alert

On December 16, 2003, the National Consumers League (NCL), the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), 67 organizations, and others petitioned the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) to require an "Alcohol Facts" label on alcoholic-beverage containers.  We thank the many organizations and individuals who supported the petition.


Specifically, the petition requests the addition of an "Alcohol Facts" box on labels of alcoholic beverages that would include the following information:

  1. Number of calories per serving;

  2. Serving size for a standard drink that contains 0.50 ounce of ethyl alcohol;

  3. Number of standard drinks per container;

  4. Amount of alcohol in ounces; and

  5. Alcohol content, expressed as a percentage of volume.


Other additions to the label would include a declaration of ingredients (including food and color additives and flavors) by their common or usual names and the current U.S. Dietary Guidelines' definitions of moderate drinking for men and women.


The information on labels of different types of alcoholic beverages today vary considerably and consumers cannot easily or accurately determine the alcohol content and number of servings in many of the containers from which they drink.  The proposed labeling requirements seek to standardize such information across beverage lines.


The petition's request for calorie information addresses growing concerns about obesity in America.  Alcoholic beverages are a significant source of calories in this country, and many drinkers have no idea how many calories they’re adding to their diets.  Calorie information would allow consumers to compare among beverages and also better control their calorie intake.  Recent polling by CSPI reveals that few consumers know the calorie content of alcoholic beverages, and that a healthy majority favor listing calorie information on alcoholic-beverage labels.


Listing ingredients would not only provide basic consumer information, but also benefit people who suffer from food allergies.


After submitting the petition, CSPI encouraged the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS), Tommy Thompson, to support the proposal for standardized "Alcohol Facts" labels on all alcoholic beverages.  Although TTB regulates alcoholic-beverage labeling, HHS, through the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), oversees food-product labeling, including required labeling on hard cider and low-alcohol wine.  Ingredient and calorie labeling on all alcoholic-beverages address HHS's interest in reducing obesity.


Following the filing of the petition, spirits marketer Diageo announced that it would provide certain information about its products voluntarily, in its promotions, on its websites, and on labels.  In addition to alcohol content, serving size, and calories, Diageo plans to provide information on macro-nutrients (fat, protein, carbohydrates) and some ingredients.  Diageo, however, opposes a government mandate.


Diageo's eagerness to provide consumer information may well stem from competitive grounds.  Jumping on the diet wagon that Anheuser-Busch's Michelob ULTRA has been riding, Diageo has also begun to tout the low-carb -- or zero-carb -- nature of its spirits products.  Some wine makers have also expressed muted support for labeling some of the information sought by the petition, but have balked at a government requirement and the request to list all ingredients.


The petition has already received substantial attention in the media.  Here are just a few selected articles:

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U.S. Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee Meets

Related Links:

November 2003 Washington Report

August 2003 Washington Report

DGAC Meeting Announcement [PDF]

2005 Dietary Guidelines Information

The 2005 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee (DGAC) met in Washington, DC on January 28-29.  For previous Washington Report coverage of DGAC topics, see the November 2003 and August 2003 issues.


CSPI will submit comments to the Committee suggesting improvements in the Dietary Guidelines section on alcohol consumption.  Those comments will suggest expanding the rationale against underage drinking, strengthening advice to the elderly about moderate drinking, and revising the calorie and serving-size information for distilled spirits.  We will post them as soon as CSPI submits them.

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Update: NAS Report on Underage Drinking

Related Links:

Omnibus Appropriations Bill [PDF]

(see pages 798 and 801)

The latest developments include:


1. Appropriations Report Language:


CSPI, Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), and others supported FY 2004 Labor HHS appropriations report language encouraging action on the NAS report.  The omnibus appropriations bill signed into law on January 22, 2004 (PL:108-199) includes appropriations language directing the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to take steps to better coordinate federal efforts to prevent underage drinking, and to prepare a plan for combating underage drinking.  The Coalition for the Prevention of Alcohol Problems (CPAP) will meet with government officials to promote action on that Congressional directive.


Thanks to the efforts of Representatives Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA), Frank Wolf (R-VA), Zach Wamp (R-TN), Tom Osborne (R-NE), Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), and others, the omnibus bill also includes an $800,000 appropriation for the Ad Council to develop new PSAs on underage drinking.


2. Underage Drinking Prevention Bill:


House and Senate champions of underage drinking prevention have begun the development of bi-partisan, bi-cameral omnibus underage drinking prevention bills.  While details are not yet available, the bills would seek to implement some of the NAS report's key recommendations.  We'll circulate information on those bills as soon as it becomes available.

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New ONDCP Media Campaign Ads Link Alcohol and Illicit Drugs

Related Links:

ONDCP Press Release

During Super Bowl Week, the Office of National Drug Control Policy's (ONDCP) national youth anti-drug media campaign rolled out a new series of "early intervention ads" aimed at parents and younger teens.  The television ads debuted on Super Bowl Sunday, 2004, and will be complemented by new print, radio, and online content.


The ads for the first time mention and/or contain images linking alcohol and underage drinking with the use of other drugs.  For example, spots targeting parents say, "if you know or suspect that your teenager is drinking or using drugs..."  According to the ONDCP, research and focus group findings with parents and teens led to the new campaign.  That research suggested that:

  1. the problem of underage drinking had to be included in order for the anti-drug messages to be credible; and

  2. omitting alcohol in anti-drug spots may reinforce parents' underestimation of the risks of underage drinking.

CSPI would like to think that years of pressure from many sources to include alcohol messages in the ONDCP media campaign may also have had something to do with this new development.


We anticipate that the inclusion of alcohol messages in the new ONDCP ads will generate an onslaught of industry opposition and attacks.  In particular, those attacks could come during the annual appropriations process, as well as during ONDCP reauthorization.  Underage drinking prevention advocates should be prepared to counter such attacks and defend the media campaign's promising new direction.

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Advocacy News


CSPI Urges College Presidents to Divorce College Sports & Alcohol Ads

For information related to Advocacy News, please contact Amy Gotwals, Manager of Grassroots Advocacy.

Related Links:

Campaign Website

Supporting Schools

Campaign Endorsers

College Commitment Action Alert

This fall, CSPI launched the Campaign for Alcohol-Free Sports TV, to define publicly the problem of alcohol advertising on televised sports, create consensus among individuals and groups concerned about this issue, and build public, media and policy-maker support for change.  More than 150 organizations have already joined that Campaign.


The Campaign for Alcohol-Free Sports TV recently asked every president and athletic director in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), to endorse the "College Commitment," a pledge to support reform in alcohol advertising at individual schools, at the athletic conference level, and within the NCAA.  Ohio State University, the 2002 national college football champion, became the first school to sign on.  As of February 2, more than 60 schools around the country, including schools with major sports programs such as Northwestern University and Brigham Young University, have signed the "College Commitment."


In its early stages, the Campaign secured prominent and outspoken support. At the Campaign's November launch event, Dean Smith, former head basketball coach -- and Hall of Famer -- at the University of North Carolina, asked, "If aspirin were the leading cause of death on college campuses, do you think chancellors, presidents, and trustees would allow aspirin commercials on basketball and football telecasts?  They wouldn’t, not for a minute."


Representative Tom Osborne (R-NE), another Hall of Famer and long-time former football coach at the University of Nebraska, also threw his support behind the Campaign.  "It is particularly difficult for me to understand beer commercials and malt liquor commercials appearing during NCAA sports events.  Most of the young people who participate in NCAA athletics are under the legal drinking age, and since intercollegiate athletes are supposed to represent positive values, the alcohol commercials seem particularly inappropriate.  Furthermore, having alcohol commercials appear during televised college games is inconsistent with the efforts colleges make to curb underage drinking.  Rather than make money from the beer commercials, universities have a unique opportunity to minimize the exposure of young people to alcohol advertising and send a clear message on the serious risks of underage and excessive drinking," said Osborne.


Few college campuses are immune from the widespread problems associated with underage and binge drinking.  In 2001, two out of five college students were classified as binge drinkers and in 1999, more than 40 percent of students in a national survey showed symptoms of alcohol abuse or dependence.*


CSPI urges advocates to send letters to college presidents asking for support of the College Commitment.  Letters from alums, students, parents, fans, and prospective students will have significant weight with the president.  Please view the Action Alert online and consider taking action!  If you'd like Campaign buttons for action in your community, please give us a call at 202-332-9110, ext. 348.


* Campaign for Alcohol-Free Sports TV (2003). College Students and Alcohol Use Fact Sheet.

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Bud Light Flies into History

Related Links:

CSPI's Efforts

In November, CSPI challenged the Smithsonian Institution's National Air and Space Museum (NASM) over the display of an aerobatic plane covered in Bud Light logos.  Joined in our concern by other groups, such as the Leadership to Keep Children Alcohol-Free and Commercial Alert, and thousands of citizens around the country, CSPI urged Smithsonian officials to reconsider the appropriateness of the plane's display in a educational museum visited by millions of young people every year.


Twenty U.S. Representatives, led by Representatives Maurice Hinchey (D-NY) and Zach Wamp (R-TN), also wrote to Smithsonian Secretary Larry Small to request the plane's removal, and several news stories appeared in the Washington Post.  The Smithsonian, however, refused to budge.  Its spokespeople claimed the plane's historical value derived from its twenty-year air show career, which was sponsored by Bud Light, not from the multiple national and international aerobatic championships the plane's builder and pilot had won earlier.  The plane is now on display at the NASM's annex in Virginia.


In related Smithsonian news, check out Secretary Small's just desserts.

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Malibu Rum Taps 'Teen Choice' Winner Shaggy for 'Good Times'

Related Links:

CSPI Press Release

Malibu Rum Press Release

DISCUS Code Review Board Letter [PDF]

FTC Letter [PDF]

In letters to the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States (DISCUS) Code Review Board and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), CSPI criticized Allied Domecq Spirits' Malibu Rum for recruiting Shaggy, a musician who won two Teen Choice Awards in 2001, to star in its new advertising campaign.  CSPI noted that this partnership violates DISCUS' voluntary advertising standards by appealing to underage youth.


Malibu Rum's press release crowed that Shaggy would become the "personality of Malibu" and states that "his upbeat nature and approach to life perfectly reflects what Malibu is all about -- helping to kick-start a fun evening for 'seriously easy-going' good times."  DISCUS has not yet responded.


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Europeans Hit Alcopops with Higher Taxes

Related Links:

CSPI Materials on Alcopops

CSPI comments to TTB [PDF]

Switzerland just did it last year.  England, New Zealand, and Ireland took the step earlier.  And now Germany is about to join several other European countries in imposing a higher tax on alcopops.


The strong appeal to young people of the sweet-tasting "malternatives" raised serious concerns in those countries, as well as the United States.  In order to curb their consumption by young people, in 2002 England and Ireland both re-classified the soda pop-like alcoholic drinks as spirits or liquor, thus significantly increasing the tax levied and, in turn, the price.  In 2003, New Zealand and Switzerland passed laws hiking taxes on alcopops with the same goal in mind -- reducing underage and binge drinking of the popular products.  Switzerland increased the tax on alcopop beverages by 300 percent.


Now Germany is considering following suit.  According to the Evening Standard (London), the German parliament is poised to vote on a tax-increase bill early this year that could take effect this summer.  German authorities cite statistics showing increases in youthful alcopop consumption, even among 12-year-olds.  If the German bill passes, it may prompt a European Union-wide mandate.


In October 2003, CSPI urged the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) to re-classify alcopops as spirits-based, rather than malt-based products.  Many of the products have liquor brand names and actually contain alcohol derived from spirits, rather than malt-beverage sources.  Despite their alcohol content, they have been treated much like malt beverages, distributed through the same channels, and taxed at the beer rate.  In addition, despite their obvious promotion of liquor brands, they're advertised on network television, as if they were beer, making a mockery of network policies against hard-liquor advertising.


Classifying the products as distilled spirits would reduce the number of outlets in which the products are sold, increase the taxes on the products to the liquor rate, and perhaps discourage the networks from accepting advertising for them.  It might also help dispel some of the consumer confusion that has developed surrounding the identity of the products.  The TTB received thousands of public comments on the rule change proposal last fall, but has not yet issued a final rule.

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State Alcohol-Tax Update

Related Links:

CSPI State Alcohol-Tax Updates

It's that time of year again!  Many state legislatures are already in session, and we hope to see a lot of alcohol tax proposals introduced and passed this year.  So far, legislation has been introduced or voted on in committee in Arkansas, California, Missouri, and New Mexico, while law makers in South Dakota have announced plans to propose alcohol-tax increases.  There's action in many other states as well.  Check the CSPI website for more information as we hear about other bills throughout the year.


If you know of any proposals in your state, please let us know.

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Industry Watch


Lawsuit Charges that Alcohol Companies Target Youth

For information related to Industry Watch, please send us an email.

Related Links:

Lawsuit [PDF]

Allied Domecq Press Release

Beer Insights Article

On November 14, 2003, two prominent law firms filed a class-action lawsuit (Ayman R. Hakki, et al., v. Zima Company, et al.) in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia accusing specific alcoholic-beverage producers of purposefully marketing products to underage youth to increase companies' profits and lying about their actions.  The companies named in the suit include Coors Brewing Company, Heineken, Mark Anthony Brands (makers of Mike's Hard Lemonade), Bacardi USA, Bacardi Group, Brown-Forman, Diageo, Kobrand (maker of Alize cognac), and the Beer Institute.  Notably, Anheuser-Busch and Miller Brewing Company were not included.


The suit was filed by the law firms of Boies, Schiller & Flexnor, LLP and Straus & Boies, LLP.  David Boies, of Boies, Schiller & Flexnor, LLP, represented the U.S. Justice Department in its antitrust litigation against Microsoft Corp and was lead counsel in Al Gore's litigation concerning the Florida vote in the 2000 presidential election.


The plaintiff, a DC plastic surgeon, claims that the companies violate DC's consumer protection law.  On behalf of two classes of plaintiffs, he seeks to recover the profits gained by these companies from their "long-running, sophisticated and deceptive scheme…to market alcoholic beverages to children and other underage consumers."  The lawsuit systematically alleges how each company violates industry-enforced marketing codes and uses website design, magazine and radio ads, television spots, and special promotions as the main outlets for targeting underage youth and children.


Soon after the announcement of the lawsuit, Allied Domecq Spirits, North America, makers of products such as Kahlua, Stolichnaya vodkas, and Sauza tequilas, established an external Independent Advertising Review Board to evaluate the company's global advertisements' compliance with Allied Domecq's marketing code.  Members of the Board include Jodie Bernstein, former Consumer Protection Director of the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and member of the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States (DISCUS) Code Advisory Board; Hugh Burkitt, CEO of UK Marketing Society and member of The Portman Group Review Panel; and Jose Massaguer, Lawyer, Professor in Law, and Chairman of the Second Chamber of the Jury on Self-Regulation of Advertising in Spain.  The Board will report its findings to the company's internal Advertising Review Committee.  Allied Domecq emphasized its commitment to market responsibly to legal-age consumers only and stressed the success of self-regulation practices.  (See the Malibu Rum article.)


Others also challenged the lawsuit, including Jeff Becker, President of the Beer Institute, who said that the lawsuit was "ungrounded and should be dismissed" and referred to recent FTC reviews that found that beer producers advertised responsibly.  Diageo promised to "vigorously defend itself," along with Brown-Forman.  On December 23, 2003, on motion of defendant Coors Brewing Co., the case was removed to the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.  The Beer Institute filed a motion to dismiss and a lengthy memorandum in support of that motion.

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Beer Sales Slump as Liquor and Wine Sales Encroach

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The Distilled Spirits Council of the United States (DISCUS) reports that distilled spirit and wine sales are set to edge into beer's market share in 2003.  Liquor sales rose by about 5.9 percent, and DISCUS estimates that distilled spirits made up 30.4 percent of the market in 2003, an increase from 29.7 percent in 2002.  The share of wine sales rose from 15.9 percent to 16.3 percent this year.  The market share for beer dropped from 54.4 percent in 2002 to 53.3 percent in 2003.  Another industry source notes that beer sales at the end of 2003 stayed disappointingly low.  However, industry reports from early this year have remarked on beer's rebound in supermarket sales.


Commenting on low beer sales at the end of the year, one beer distributor said, "the price increases may have caught up with us."  Apparently, off-premise liquor prices have not risen this past year as much as supermarket beer prices.  At the same time, the successful marketing of spirits as the "hip" new drink and the growing popularity of the "cocktail culture" have fueled on-premise liquor sales in the form of martinis and other mixed drinks.


While the overall beer industry saw decreased beer sales in 2003, Anheuser-Busch announced record sales in the last quarter of the year.  Beer shipments to wholesalers rose 0.8 percent in 2003 to 102.6 million barrels. Sales from wholesalers to retailers rose 0.9 percent in 2003.  The company attributes most of its success to the popularity of Michelob ULTRA and hot sales of Bud Light, products that respond to the low-carb and dieting trend.  A-B anticipates continued growth in 2004, in part due to "a favorable pricing environment" that has thus far allowed it to raise prices in selected markets twice a year for the past two years.




MADD Activist Joins Century Council

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Brandy Anderson, former director of public policy for Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), has joined The Century Council as vice president for government relations.  An organization funded by major distilled spirits producers, The Century Council "promotes responsible decision-making regarding drinking or non-drinking of beverage alcohol and discourages all forms of irresponsible consumption through education, communications, research, law enforcement, and other programs."




Contact Information:

For more information, please send us an email.

Center for Science in the Public Interest
Alcohol Policies Project
1220 L St. NW, Suite 300
Washington, DC  20009
Phone: (202) 332-9110
Fax: (202) 265-4954

Washington Report has been produced with the generous support of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

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