February 25, 2003
Statement of Betty Ford, Chairman, The Betty Ford Center and Joseph A. Califano, Jr., President and Chairman, The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University
The article, Alcohol Consumption and Expenditures for Underage Drinking and Adult Excessive Drinking by Foster et al in the February 26 edition of JAMA, the Journal of the American Medical Association, reveals that underage drinking and adult excessive drinking account for 50.1 percent—more than half—of the alcohol consumed in the United States and $53.6 billion in consumer expenditures for alcohol, 49 percent of the $116.2 billion market in 1999. This accurate, peer reviewed accounting of underage and excessive adult drinking reveals that we are dealing with an epidemic that threatens the health and safety of millions of children, families and adults. The alcohol industry has consistently underestimated the cost of underage and excessive drinking in the U.S. and this JAMA study gives the American people the facts for the first time.
These findings also demonstrate that the alcohol industry has an inherent conflict of interest between public health and industry profits.
We urge the alcohol industry to cooperate with the public health community to curb underage drinking and adult excessive drinking by immediately providing a $1 billion endowment for an independent foundation with no ties to the industry to work exclusively to curb underage drinking and adult excessive drinking. This foundation should be completely free of any ties to the beer, wine and hard liquor industries, and not be a non-profit arm of the industry like the Century Council. A $1 billion endowment represents less than two percent of consumer expenditures in 1999 for underage and adult excessive drinking and less than one percent of all 1999 expenditures on alcohol.
Statement of Julius B. Richmond, MD – U.S. Surgeon General 1977-1981
Antonia C. Novello, MD, MPH, DrPH–U.S. Surgeon General 1990-1993
David Satcher, MD, PhD – U.S. Surgeon General 1998-2002
The article, “Alcohol Consumption and Expenditures for Underage Drinking and Adult Excessive Drinking” by Foster et al in the February 26 edition of JAMA, the Journal of the American Medical Association, reveals that underage drinking amounts to 19.7 percent of the alcohol consumed in the United States and that adult excessive drinking--the amount consumed by adults above the maximum of two drinks a day for men established by the U.S. Departments of Health and Human Services and Agriculture and the National Institute on Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse--equals 30.4 percent of such consumption. The article estimates that eliminating underage drinking and adult excessive drinking would reduce alcohol consumption by 50.1 percent and in 1999 that would have decreased consumer expenditures for alcohol from $116.2 billion to $59.3 billion.
The findings in this study call for action by parents, the public health community and the alcohol industry. Parents have the greatest influence on their children. We urge parents to use their influence to encourage their children to stay alcohol free. The public health community--governments and public health officials, physicians and other health care providers, and educators--should mount aggressive education campaigns, like those being conducted to deal with smoking and illicit drug use, to prevent underage drinking, to warn the public of the dangers of underage and adult excessive drinking and to encourage families and communities to take actions to curb such drinking.
We urge the alcohol industry to partner with the public health community to curb underage drinking and adult excessive drinking. Such a partnership is far preferable to the confrontational approach taken by the tobacco industry that has resulted in such a loss of its credibility and respect. A partnership with the public health community offers a way for the alcohol industry to deal with its inherent conflict of interest between its legal obligation to sell products and make money and the public health interest in curbing underage drinking and adult excessive drinking.
We call on the alcohol industry to:
- Include in its advertising and product labels clear warnings of the dangers of underage drinking and adult excessive drinking and the definition of moderate drinking as defined by Nutritional Guidelines of the U.S. Departments of Health and Human Services and Agriculture--no more than one drink a day for women and two drinks a day for men;
- Include in its product labels the nutritional health profile of the contents, including caloric content; and
- Endow an independent foundation with no ties to the alcohol industry to work exclusively to curb underage drinking and adult excessive drinking.