The holiday season is meant to be a time of family togetherness filled with joy and peace.
But the reality is what we see in our communities, read about in the newspapers, and witness on television is the opposite. Many people experience a flare-up of anxiety, stress, depression, and guilt, others are victims of domestic violence, and innocent people are impacted by others booze-fuelled antics.
To make matters worse, the most common way people deal with the stress is by emotional drinking, bingeing and in many cases using alcohol and other substances just to survive.
Would it be easier for you to control your alcohol consumption if it wasn’t so readily available? What if it wasn’t shoved in your face every time you walked down the street or went shopping for groceries? Many people say, ‘yes’ but they feel powerless to stop the spread of alcohol in their lives and communities.
“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,” says activist Josh Fox.
Do you know how much money 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 protecting people from avoidable harm and 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 per se, and I don’t believe a nice drink now and then is an abhorrent evil. What does get my back up is underhand tactics, misinformation, and self-interest at the expense of others. That, and not sticking around to mop up the harm.
According to figures published by the Center for Responsive Politics in 2017, the total lobbying expenditures in the US 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 maximize profits and returns to shareholders.
The owner of our local liquor store, for example, was rewarded for selling the highest volume of 1125ml bottles of rum with an all expenses paid trip to Jamacia. That’s quite a juicy incentive to up the volume of sales.
Many 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 impact of alcohol-fuelled harm.
• 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. 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, despite the increasing scale of harm, the legal drinking age remains 18. MPs, swayed by lobbyists successfully 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 Labor 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.
Māori 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 and other opponents of lowering the drinking age 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 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 also shows the lowering of the age had resulted in the “de facto” drinking age falling to between 14 and 17.
“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 is saying their aim is to get drunk. That’s where the problem is,” Morgan said.
In another example, official papers published by Fairfax New Zealand revealed that 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.
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 of 2012, the Government backed away from its plan to ban from off-licenses the sale of RTDs (ready-to-drinks) with more than 6 percent alcohol.
Not only are RTDs stronger and cheaper than other forms of alcohol, but they’re sweeter (therefore masking the task of alcohol) and easier to consume.
Instead, the Government gave the industry the right to draw up its own RTD code of conduct.
Really? The alcohol industry regulating itself to reduce harm? Until there are disincentives for them to keep increasing the volumes of alcohol consumed, such as an about-turn in public opinion, it is highly unlikely they will regulate against their own interests. Until then, what possible motivation would they have to scale back their reach?
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, in announcing the backdown, said, “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.”
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 onto dairy products, while their flunkeys invented a narrative about cholesterol and harmful fats.
By saying that people who can’t control alcohol are ‘fools’ and should be able to make informed choices, Collins may as well be saying that 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 or friend dies of alcohol poisoning, alcohol-related cancer, or at the hands of a drunk driver?
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 drunk ‘joy-riding’ teen just before Christmas in 2017.
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—and by default law-abiding taxpayers? Why?
And why is the driver 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 sick of feeling afraid and worried when I drive at night that I might become the next victim of a marauding drunk. And I’m sick of my tax dollars being spent so needlessly.
I’m not alone. In the following chapter, you’ll discover research conducted by the University of Western Australia in 2016, summarizing the revenues generated by excise taxes, and questioning the fair, or rather citing the unfair allocation of the burden of harm.
Mindful or conscious 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.
The following excerpt from a 2013 report published by the US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health spotlights the collaborative efforts and sharing of formidable financial resource that alcohol and tobacco companies pour into ensuring high sales and profits, manipulating governments and turning people into fools.
You may argue that pooling resources is simply smart business. Yet, it’s worth considering is it a fair or ethical practice to target:
• Vulnerable people, including youth
• Socio-economically deprived and those at risk?
Perhaps you don’t count yourself in any of the above brackets. But the truth is that alcohol harm is all pervasive—and expensive. Suicide, car crashes, injury, mental-health related violence, the high cost of incarceration, expenditure on addressing alcohol harm at the cost of increased spending by Governments affects us all.
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 my books Your Beautiful Mind and Mind Your Drink, 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.
We’ll also explore why we are incarcerating so many people with drinking problems and the need to spend more money on offering treatment and support.
But first, let’s take a peek into the darker and fascinating side of advertising.
Specifically, we’ll look at the psychological warfare and advertising ploys that 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 nobody’s fool.”
This is an edited extract of Cassandra Gaisford’s new book Mind Your Drink: The Surprising Joy of Sobriety (Control Alcohol, Discover Freedom, Find Happiness and Change Your Life), available in print and eBook from all good bookstores, including:
I am an artist, storyteller, intuitive guide, mentor and Reiki master. All my creations are infused with positive energy , inspiration, and light. I believe in magic and the power of beauty, joy, love, purpose, and creativity to transform your life. My greatest joy is helping your realize your dreams. That makes my soul sing!
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