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Issue for the '90's.

Issue for the '90s

The brewing industry enters the '90s under a darkening sky, as rising public concern about alcohol abuse colors the national debate. This concern is having an undoubted impact on the alcohol beverage industry.

It's possible that the country will emerge from this period under new and oppressive regulation. That need not be the case. Continued efforts by the brewing industry in addressing public concerns should deflect government intervention.

This is particularly important when there is growing evidence that alcohol education efforts are bearing fruit. This reaffirms the industry view that education is superior to government regulation.

In the United States, the "noble experiment" illustrated that governmental decree is not an effective means of regulating behaviour. Despite a deep moral consciousness, American citizens have not embraced legislated morality.

On the contrary, America's greatest strengths lie in coupling freedom of information with an untrammeled private sector. By exploiting these strengths, great strides can be made in solving the problem of alcohol abuse. The brewing industry has a vested interest in furthering this effort.

Primarily, people need to be informed on the distinction between use and abuse of alcohol. Information on this subject is being widely disseminated, and this must continue unabated. With information and education, Americans will shrink from alcohol abuse.

These educational efforts must address two major public concerns--drunken driving and alcoholism.

By rights, the problem of drunken driving should have been solved soon after the invention of the automobile. Unfortunately, the pace of technological development left society little time to adapt. Taboos of forbidden acts ordinarily take centuries to develop. In this case, the hour is late, and action is necessary. The message must go forth that drunken driving violates common sense, and is a profound betrayal of the social contract.

The industry is actively propounding this message. Effective advertising, (i.e., Coors' "Now, Not Now" campaign) starkly illustrates right and wrong choices by consumers. The industry must continue efforts in this vein.

Other campaigns by brewers have certainly had a beneficial effect. Anheuser-Busch provided nearly $2 million to Students Against Drunk Driving during an eight-year sponsorship. Although SADD recently eschewed further industry support, those dollars weren't wasted. SADD chapters now exist at 80 percent of high schools.

In another example, the Miller Brewing Company sponsors bus transportation in Milwaukee for New Year's Eve revellers. A broadening of such efforts at high-risk periods might provide great dividends.

These efforts by brewers are valuable in illustrating the industry's concern. Brewers and wholesalers must not be seen as callous purveyors of a dangerous good. On the contrary. As businessmen, they have a stake in maintaining and strengthening the social contract.

Current statistics seem to show progess. Beer Drinkers of America recently published a Roper poll that shows the percentage of Americans who drink and drive is declining. Most heartening, this decline was most precipitous among people 18-24, dropping from 48 to 31 percent.

Beer Drinker's of America also points to statistics released by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. These statistics show a significant decline in the proportion of traffic deaths involving drunk drivers--from 46.3 percent in 1982 to 39 percent in 1989--a drop of 16 percent.

The industry must continue to play an activist role in fighting the problem of drunk driving. There are monetary costs involved, but the potential dividends are great.

The broader problem of alcoholism will be less responsive to the good intentions of the industry. Government regulation, however, will be equally ineffective.

Witness Soviet attempts at controlling alcoholism. The totalitarian Soviet regime had a notable lack of success, despite the world's most advanced methods of population control. This bodes ill for attempts at regulation in the United States, the world's most open society.

Once again, however, American society's openness can be its salvation. Through education, young people can be encouraged to adapt moderate drinking habits. If consciousness can be raised at a young age, the problem of alcoholism could be lessened in the upcoming generation.

It is imperative that the industry continue a pro-active response to the public concerns of drunken driving and alcoholism. The brewing industry can do society a great boon--simply by educating Americans in taking responsibility for their own actions.
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Title Annotation:alcohol abuse and the brewing industry
Publication:Modern Brewery Age
Article Type:editorial
Date:Jan 21, 1991
Previous Article:Miller distributors receive awards at California meeting.
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