Beer money is OK for paying to combat excessive drinking
The University of Hawaii has accepted a brewery grant to help pay for a project to combat underage and binge drinking on campus.
UNIVERSITY of Hawaii officials have launched a campaign to combat underage and binge drinking
with the help of a $240,000 check from the nation's largest brewer. Mothers Against Drunk Driving has expressed concern about the beer money, but the project is consistent with the brewer's discouragement of excessive drinking. Acceptance of the contribution was appropriate.
The Manoa Alcohol Project was announced by UH officials, Attorney General Mark Bennett and John T. Kaesner, vice president for consumer affairs for Anheuser-Busch Cos. Inc. The check from the Anheuser-Busch Foundation, replacing a federal grant that expires this year, is to be used to train dormitory staff, for surveys of alcohol use on campus and for posters and other materials to discourage excessive drinking.
Anheuser-Busch claims that the brewery and its 600 wholesalers have spent more than $500 million since 1982 on national and community-based programs to combat alcohol abuse, including underage drinking. The company sends that message in much of its promotional material.
Carol McNamee of MADD-Hawaii complains that the brewery's recent marketing of a flavored malt liquor called Spykes is aimed at young people. Spykes comes in mango, lime, melon and chocolate flavors. It has 12 percent alcohol content -- about the same as wine -- and is sold for 75 cents to $1 in 2-ounce bottles, about the same size as nail polish containers, as additives -- shots -- to beer.
Joseph A. Califano Jr., head of the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University, has denounced Spykes as "a predatory move to attract underage drinkers." He called it reminiscent of R.J. Reynolds' marketing three years ago of Kauai Kolada and other flavors of cigarettes. Public protests led Reynolds to stop selling the flavored cigarettes in the United States.
The comparison is off-base. Cigarettes traditionally lack fruit or chocolate flavors, and their injection in tobacco understandably was interpreted as a pitch to children. Suggesting that flavors in alcoholic beverages are aimed at attracting underage drinkers is akin to expressing outrage over the orange, lime and various other fruit ingredients that may be included in a mai tai, hardly a rave among teenagers.
Anheuser-Busch acknowledges that Spykes is part of the company's effort to respond to consumer demand -- especially by adults aged 21 to 29 -- for different flavors. The product is seen as an attempt to tap into a trend of consumers veering away from domestic beers toward more flavorful premium or imported brews.
The marketing of Spykes follows several years of industry growth of flavored malt beverages, also known as malternatives or alcopops. In a 2003 study, the Federal Trade Commission reported that the products, such as Smirnoff Ice, Bacardi Silver, Mike's Hard Lemonade and Skyy Blue, "have established a niche in the adult market" but "found no evidence of targeting underage consumers."