Category Archives: Alcohol

Marin Institute Releases New Alcohol Tax Calculator Tool

Read about and link to the new tool developed by the Marin Institute designed to assist states in raising revenue through alcohol taxation.

Online Feature Helps States Charge for Harm to Raise Revenue

Marin Institute has released the country’s first online alcohol tax and fee calculator to assist lawmakers looking for new revenue. The user-friendly tool is available at

The powerful program works for every state, as well as nationally and the District of Columbia. You just enter the amount of new tax (nickel or dime a drink, for example) for beer, wine or spirits (or any combination). Then the program instantly estimates additional annual revenues, based on a variety of factors specific to that particular jurisdiction.

Marin Institute developed the tool in response to inquiries from states looking for new revenues sources while holding Big Alcohol accountable for the enormous harm its products cause. Many states have not raised alcohol taxes or fees in decades. States with pending legislation to raise alcohol taxes or fees include: California, Illinois, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New York, Oregon, South Carolina, Tennessee, Wisconsin, Arizona, and Hawaii.

Visit the Tax / Fee Revenue Calculator on Marin Institute’s website to quickly estimate how much your state can raise in new alcohol taxes and fees.

News Updates: New Reports on the Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms Industries

The gun industry’s role in trafficking weapons to Mexico, the FDA set to regulate tobacco, and the new venues of alcohol advertising: the influence of corporations on population health is all over the news! Check out highlights from three new reports that focus on regulation.


Out-of-Home Alcohol Advertising: A 21st: Century Guide to Effective Regulation

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This report, by the Marin Institute (March 2009), the alcohol policy advocacy center, provides advocates and policymakers with suggestions for designing effective regulation of alcohol advertising at the state and local levels. With an eye on emerging trends in out-of-home advertising (e.g., digital billboards, advertising in public transit), this 12-page report focuses on the strengths and weaknesses of laws on the books in various jurisdictions across the U.S. It summarizes the factors advocates should consider when designing effective oversight of alcohol advertisements. With examples of restrictions likely and unlikely to withstand legal challenge and examples of model language from current laws on the books in cities in California and Pennsylvania, this report can help those interested in achieving effective regulation of alcohol advertising in their communities.


The Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act

On April 2nd, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 1256, the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act by a vote of 298 to 112. This act amends the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act (FFDCA) to grant the FDA authority to regulate the manufacturing, marketing and sale of tobacco products. The bill adds a new chapter to the FFDCA to regulate tobacco products. Tobacco products would not be regulated under the “safe and effective” standard currently used for other products under the agency’s purview, but under a new standard—”appropriate for the protection of the public health.” With the support of President Obama, Senator Edward Kennedy is expected to soon introduce a version of the house bill in the Senate. Two tobacco-state senators, Richard Burr, a Republican, and Kay Hagan, a Democrat, both from North Carolina, have submitted a weaker substitute bill that would create a new tobacco regulatory agency within the Department of Health and Human Services. As the New York Times noted in an April 25th editorial, “such a fledgling agency would almost certainly be much less effective than the F.D.A., especially since the senators don’t propose to grant it the broad powers and ample resources provided by the House-passed bill.”

Key features of the House of Representatives-passed bill include:

  1. Restrictions on marketing and sales to youth
  2. Specific authority granted to FDA to restrict tobacco marketing
  3. Detailed disclosure required of ingredients, nicotine and harmful smoke constituents
  4. FDA allowed to require changes to tobacco products to protect the public health
  5. Strictly regulated “reduced harm” products
  6. Requirement for bigger, better health warnings
  7. FDA activity funding through a user fee on manufacturers of cigarettes, cigarette tobacco and smokeless tobacco, allocated by market share

For a special report on the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act from the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, go to:


Exporting Gun Violence: How Our Weak Gun Laws Arm Criminals in Mexico and America

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The Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence has issued a new report on the problem recently reported in the New York Times (“Loopholes to let gun smuggling to Mexico flourish,” April 14, 2009) entitled, “Exporting Gun Violence: How Our Weak Gun Laws Arm Criminals in Mexico and America.” Arguing that same laws that allow gun trafficking into Mexico have long allowed trafficking of guns to American criminals, the Brady campaign supports new laws that make background checks mandatory for all gun purchases and beefing up the authority of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) to enforce laws.

In the report, the Brady Campaign urges U.S. leaders to look further than just enforcement of existing laws, and strengthen American gun laws to make it harder for Mexican criminals to arm themselves with U.S. firearms. The report stresses the urgent need for stronger gun laws that make it more difficult for military-style assault weapons and other guns to be sold by American gun dealers to gun traffickers who take guns over the border into Mexico, supplying weapons to fuel the violent drug cartels.

New Reports on Food, Alcohol and Tobacco Marketing

In the last few months, government and advocacy organizations have released new reports on the impact of tobacco marketing, inequities in how grocery chains serve low-income neighborhoods, and the alcohol industry’s compliance with its own voluntary guidelines. To help readers keep up, we summarize some of this summer’s publications and provide links to the full reports.


As elected officials, public health researchers and advocates increasingly recognize that corporate policies and practices have a major influence on health, Corporations and Health Watch readers may have trouble keeping up with the many reports on the subject. Since these reports often appear in the “gray literature” and are not centrally indexed, it’s easy to miss information that could inform research or practice.  To assist readers in this task, CHW summarizes a few recent reports; we do not review their claims or assess their methodologies.

Bloomberg M. Press Release: Mayor Bloomberg and Shaquille O’neal Announce New Food Standards For City Agencies, September 19, 2008.

On September 19th, New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and NBA basketball player Shaquille O’Neal announced the launch of New York City’s new food standards designed to improve the nutritional quality of the 225 million snacks and meals served by City agencies each year. These standards make New York City the first major US city to establish nutrition standards for all food purchased or served by city agencies. The new standards cover snacks and meals served in places such as schools, senior centers, homeless shelters, child care centers, after school programs, correctional facilities, public hospitals and parks. The standards mandate City agencies to serve only healthier beverages such as skim or 1 percent milk (with exceptions for babies), phase out deep frying, include two servings of fruits and vegetables in every lunch and dinner, lower salt content and increase the amount of fiber in meals.

Blue Ribbon Commission on L.A.’s Grocery Industry and Community Health.  Feeding our Communities.  A Call for Standards for Food Access and Job Quality in Los Angeles Grocery Industry. Los Angeles, July 2008.  Available in [pdf]

The Alliance for Healthy and responsible Grocery Stores, a city-wide Los Angeles coalition of 25 community, faith-based, labor, and environmental organizations last July released “Feeding Our Communities: A Call for Standards for Food Access and Job Quality in Los Angeles’ Grocery Industry”. Based on public hearings in which residents, industry experts, academics, workers and clergy gave testimony regarding the practices of L.A.’s grocery industry, the report describes the growing disparities between the industry’s treatment of L.A.’s better off and poor communities.  The report presents evidence that LA supermarket chains ignore and mistreat the area’s low-income communities. The Alliance expects to propose citywide legislation that would establish uniform standards for grocery stores in Los Angeles, ensuring that low income neighborhoods receive more equitable treatment.

Federal Trade Commission. Marketing Food to Children and Adolescents A Review of Industry Expenditures, Activities, and Self-Regulation. A Report to Congress. Washington, D.C.: Federal Trade Commission, July 2008.  Available in [pdf]

From the FTC press release on the report:
“The Federal Trade Commission today announced the results of a study on food marketing to children and adolescents. The report, Marketing Food to Children and Adolescents: A Review of Industry Expenditures, Activities, and Self-Regulation, finds that 44 major food and beverage marketers spent $1.6 billion to promote their products to children under 12 and adolescents ages 12 to 17 in the United States in 2006. The report finds that the landscape of food advertising to youth is dominated by integrated advertising campaigns that combine traditional media, such as television, with previously unmeasured forms of marketing, such as packaging, in-store advertising, sweepstakes, and Internet. These campaigns often involve cross-promotion with a new movie or popular television program. Analyzing this data, the report calls for all food companies “to adopt and adhere to meaningful, nutrition-based standards for marketing their products to children under 12.”

Kolish ED, Peeler CL.  Changing the Landscape of Food and Beverage Advertising: The Children’s Food and Beverage Initiative in Action.  Arlington, VA: Council of Better Business Bureaus, July 2008.  Available at:

From the Executive Summary:
During July through December 2007, the six companies scheduled to implement during this period, Campbell Soup Company, The Coca-Cola Company, the Hershey Company, Kraft Foods Global, Inc., Mars, and Unilever, successfully implemented their pledges in which they committed either to not engage in child-directed advertising or to feature only better-for-you products in child-directed advertising.

  • No child-directed advertising. Based on our review, Coca-Cola, Hershey and Mars did not engage in child-directed advertising as they had pledged.
  • Advertising only for better-for-you products. Based on our review, Kraft limited all, and Campbell and Unilever limited virtually all, of their child-directed advertising to better-for-you products as specified in their pledges.

Campbell reported, and the BBB separately observed, that during the initial start up period, it had overlooked removing, primarily on its child-directed company-owned websites, a relatively small amount of content that referenced or displayed products that do not (or did not then) meet its nutrition guidelines. These problems have been remedied. Its television advertising, which represented a substantially larger amount of its media expenditures, was otherwise compliant with its pledge.

  • The BBB found that Unilever, while otherwise fully in compliance, had overlooked removing a couple of products, out of many, from its child-directed company-owned website. It has corrected this issue.

During July through December 2007, Burger King Corp., Cadbury Adams, General Mills, Kellogg Company, McDonald’s, and PepsiCo began the process of implementing their pledges. Many of them, ahead of schedule, implemented their pledges to a significant degree by limiting or changing what they advertised to children, or by early implementation of other parts of their pledges, such as product placement commitments.

Langlois, A. and Crossley, R.    Proof of the Pudding: Benchmarking Ten of the World’s Largest Food Companies’ Response to Obesity and Related Health Concerns. New York: JP Morgan,  April 2008. Available in [pdf]

In April 2008, JP Morgan Limited released a report in which it evaluated ten major food companies against a best practice framework developed by Insight Investment and the International Business Leaders Forum ‘HEAL’ partnership, published in 2007: ‘A Recipe for Success’.

The report includes the key components of a comprehensive corporate response to consumer health and obesity challenges. All companies were initially evaluated on the basis of their public disclosure and assigned a score for the quality of reporting: sources used included annual reports, SEC filings, corporate responsibility reports or similar, websites.

Researchers offered to meet with managers of all the companies to discuss initial findings and provide a comprehensive explanation of their strategies and program. Seven companies took the opportunity to meet while Cadbury, Heinz and Kraft were not in a position to meet. Final analysis and score for performance completed on the basis of additional information provided in company meetings. Companies sent final provisional scores and offered the opportunity to review and provide additional information, which several did.

Marin Institute.  Why Big Alcohol Can’t Police Itself A Review of Advertising Self-regulation in the Distilled Spirits Industry.  Marin Institute, September 2008.  Available in [pdf]

In this September 2008 report, the Marin Institute analyzes the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States (DISCUS) Code of Responsible Marketing Practices reports from 2004-2007. The Federal Trade Commission relies upon a system of voluntary self-regulation to ensure responsible marketing practices by the alcohol industry. This report publishes for the first time a systematic review of the DISCUS oversight process, and concludes that the process is inherently biased and consistently fails to protect the public from irresponsible advertising.

National Cancer Institute.  The Role of the Media in Promoting and Reducing Tobacco Use.  NCI Tobacco Control Monograph Series. No 19.  Washington DC, National Institutes of Health, July 2008.  Available in [pdf]

src=”uploads/images/old_archives/img/clip_image012_0000.gif” alt=”Role of the Media in Promoting and Reducing Tobacco Use” hspace=”10″ vspace=”5″ width=”131″ height=”197″ align=”right” />Summarized from page vii of report:  This 684 page report is the most current and comprehensive distillation of the scientific literature on media communications in tobacco promotion and tobacco control. It synthesizes findings from the disciplines of marketing, psychology, communications, statistics, epidemiology, and public health and was compiled by five scientific editors, 23 authors, and 62 external peer reviewers. The report has six main parts. Part 1 frames the rationale for report’s organization and presents the key issues and conclusions of the research as a whole and of the individual chapters. Part 2 explores tobacco marketing—the range of media interventions used by the tobacco industry to promote its products, such as brand advertising and promotion, as well as corporate sponsorship and advertising. This section also evaluates the evidence for the influence of tobacco marketing on smoking behavior and discusses regulatory and constitutional issues related to marketing restrictions. Part 3 explores how both the tobacco control community and the tobacco industry have used news and entertainment media to advocate their positions and how such coverage relates to tobacco use and tobacco policy change. The section also appraises evidence of the influence of tobacco use in movies on youth smoking initiation. Part 4 focuses on tobacco control media interventions and the strategies, themes, and communication designs intended to prevent tobacco use or encourage cessation, including opportunities for new media interventions. This section also synthesizes evidence on the effectiveness of mass media campaigns in reducing smoking. Part 5 discusses tobacco industry efforts to diminish media interventions by the tobacco control community and to use the media to oppose state tobacco control ballot initiatives and referenda. Finally, Part 6 examines possible future directions in the use of media to promote or to control tobacco use and summarizes research needs and opportunities.

United Food and Commercial Workers International Union.  The Two Faces of Tesco.  Washington, D.C.: United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, June 2008. Available in [pdf]

From the press release for the report:
In June 2008, the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, a US union representing 1.3 million workers in the retail food market, launched a UK campaign to expose The Two Faces of Tesco. The report examines how Tesco operates in the United Kingdom, its home base, and the United States, and compares Tesco policies and rhetoric with its practices.

At a London press launch chaired by UK Member of Parliament Jon Cruddas the union said that it is stepping up a campaign already begun in the United States to shame Tesco to talks on union recognition and employee pay and benefits.

The UFCW seeks to represent some of the lowest-paid and least secure retail workers in the USA, more than half of whom are women, and has been seeking talks with Tesco for two years since the world’s third-largest retailer announced its entry into the US grocery market. All attempts have so far fallen on deaf ears, reports the UFCWU, and Tesco launched its chain of Fresh & Easy supermarkets in 2007 as non-union stores. UFCW says that it is seeking the chance for dialogue, to build the same constructive partnership that Tesco enjoys in the UK with the shop workers’ union USDAW.

Alcopops: State by State Battle to End Corporate Tax Fraud

Simon Rosen and Michele Simon from the Marin Institute describe how Alcopops, sweetened alcohol beverages, slip through a US corporate tax loophole, allowing the drinks to be marketed like beer. They call for the reclassification of alcopops as an alcohol spirit and provide an analysis of the potential health benefits of such a change.

Simon Rosen, MA, is a research analyst and Michele Simon, JD, MPH is the director of research and policy at Marin Institute, an alcohol industry watchdog group based in San Rafael, California

Alcopops are a relatively new product category in the United States. The alcohol industry labels the youth-friendly products “flavored malt beverages” to take advantage of more favorable tax rates for beer. Beer is taxed at much lower rates than are distilled spirits in the U.S. and is often sold in grocery and convenience stores, making it more widely available. Interestingly, in other countries, manufacturers do not call alcopops “malt beverages,” and indeed some companies proudly market their products as containing spirits. For example, while Smirnoff Ice is touted for containing vodka in the United Kingdom, the exact same brand in the U.S. is labeled as a malt beverage. No matter where they are sold, alcopops are sweetened, often bubbly and fruit-flavored, and designed to resemble soda pop or other soft drinks. Alcopops fuel the underage drinking epidemic by serving as a transition for young people from soft drinks to alcohol.

The proper regulatory classification in the U.S. for these products has become a matter of policy debate in recent years. Testing by the federal government in 2003 determined that the majority of the alcohol in alcopops is obtained from distilled spirits (1). Also, the drinks are often branded with spirit names, such as Smirnoff and Bacardi. Moreover, according to the U.S. Alcohol and Tobacco Trade and Tax Bureau (TTB), these drinks:

[E]xhibit little or no traditional beer or malt beverage character. … Brewers … remove the color, bitterness, and taste that are generally associated with beer. … This leaves a base product to which brewers add various flavors, which typically contain distilled spirits, to achieve the desired taste profile. (1).

Nevertheless, at the federal level, alcopops are classified as flavored malt beverages and taxed at the lower beer rate. A 2005 compromise ruling by TTB allows industry to make alcopops with up to 49 percent of the alcohol derived from distilled spirits, with the rest coming from beer, and still take advantage of the more lenient beer classification. (2) By making products that don’t taste or look like beer, and are not called beer, while still convincing regulators to classify alcopops as beer (making them more readily accessible to youth), the alcohol industry is engaging in a deceptive charade that can best be described as tax fraud. And that has sparked a national controversy.

Correcting the Deception:  Reclassifying Alcopops as Spirits

U.S. states have independent legal authority to classify alcohol products. Thus, all 50 states have their own laws that define the different categories of alcohol. Some state laws are in conflict with the federal ruling because in many states, the distinction between what can be labeled a beer and a spirit is clear, and the law does not allow for the 49/51 percent hybrid that the federal government has created.

Until recently, all states followed the federal government in classifying alcopops as beer. But thanks in large part to public outcry by advocates concerned with underage drinking, states have begun to reconsider this policy. Thus far, Maine, California, and Utah have decided to reclassify alcopops as distilled spirits and several other states are considering doing so. Essentially these states are correcting the error of regulators having misclassified alcopops for years.

Saving Lives and Money with Higher Alcopops Taxes

Because U.S. states tax distilled spirits at far higher rates than beer, correct classification would significantly increase the tax on the products. The exact change would differ considerably between states. In Oklahoma, for example, the increase would be $5.16 per gallon, but in others, such as South Dakota, the tax rise would be much smaller, only 65 cents per gallon. However in all states, taxes would increase, which could prove highly effective in reducing alcopops consumption, particularly among youth. (3) The academic literature shows that increasing taxes and prices causes drinkers to purchase and drink less alcohol. (4)

Germany, Switzerland, Denmark, France, the U.K., and most recently Australia have all significantly increased the tax on alcopops in the last few years, and other nations (such as the Netherlands and Finland) have considered proposals to do so.

For those countries for which data are available (Germany, the U.K., and Switzerland), the results suggest that alcopops consumption fell heavily after the taxes increased, and that decreased sales of alcopops were not substituted by other alcoholic beverages. (5, 6, 7)

Given the availability of these European consumption data, the Marin Institute research department undertook an analysis of each U.S. state to determine the cost savings, both in terms of lives and money. We determined the total impact nationally, if every state that could do so made the corresponding tax change. Assuming that drinkers in the U.S. respond similarly to tax increases as in other countries (and we have no reason to believe they wouldn’t), our results showed that taxing alcopops as spirits could significantly help curb underage drinking and its related costs. In New York for example, taxing alcopops as spirits could reduce consumption by 28 percent, saving 7 lives and $150 million in underage drinking costs annually. In the largest state, California, consumption levels would drop 35 percent and 21 lives and $437 million would be saved each year. Every state would see a significant impact.

While 29 states may be incorrectly taxing alcopops as beer instead of spirits, we limited our analysis to the 22 non-“control states” where the tax increase could be calculated. (About 18 “control states” have government monopolies over some alcoholic beverages, and in these states, a change in classification would be less predictable.) By excluding control states from our analysis, we are underestimating the potential national impact.

If alcopops were correctly taxed as spirits by all the states we examined, consumption would fall on average by 26 percent, and could prevent more than $1.5 billion in underage drinking costs, 72 deaths and more than 59,000 incidents of harm from underage drinking nationally (i.e., crime, high-risk sex, traffic collisions, etc.).

In addition, in the control states, reclassification to spirits would not only increase prices, but also greatly reduce distribution and availability of alcopops as they could be sold only through state-run liquor stores. Research suggests the impact of removing alcopops from convenience stores and supermarkets is likely to be highly effective in reducing both consumption and alcohol related problems. (8) Several control states are considering this policy change, with Utah leading the way by successfully reclassifying alcopops as distilled spirits in early 2008.

Racing Against a Powerful Industry

The policy reasons to correctly classify alcopops as distilled spirits are clear—underage drinking can be reduced, lives saved, and costs prevented. However, states have to act quickly because the alcohol industry is flexing its lobbying muscle to rewrite state laws. So far, under severe pressure from the alcohol industry, at least seven states that were incorrectly taxing alcopops as beer have passed laws to change the definition of alcopops to match the federal ruling allowing hybrid products, and therefore will maintain the status quo. The remaining states that can still make the correction must do so before the alcohol industry gets to the state legislatures to change the law in its favor. So we are engaged in a state-by-state race to protect youth.

In the spring of 2008, despite a valiant effort by advocates, a political battle over how to define alcopops in Maryland was lost. If industry continues on this path, the ability for the remaining states to reclassify alcopops will be severely threatened. At least twenty-one states currently have laws that indicate alcopops should be correctly classified as distilled spirits and not beer, and taxed and sold accordingly. These states must act now. Policymakers in Maine, California, and Utah have already demonstrated that the political will exists to make this critical change. Other U.S. states should waste no time in following their lead by stopping industry’s alcopops fraud.


(1) U.S. Department of the Treasury, Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau. Federal Register, March 24, 2003. Notice No. 4. Vol.68, No. 56. Online:

(2) U.S. Department of the Treasury, Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau. Flavored Malt Beverage and Related Regulatory Amendments, 70 Federal Register 1 (January 3, 2005) (codified 27 CFR Parts 7 and 25).

(3) Grossman, M., Chaloupka, F.J., Saffer, H., Laixuthai, A., Effects of Alcohol Price Policy on Youth: A Summary of Economic Research. Journal of Research on Adolescence 4(2): 347-364. 1994.

(4) Chaloupka, F.J., Grossman, M., Saffer, H., The Effects of Price on Alcohol Consumption and Alcohol-Related Problems. Alcohol Res. Health 26(1): 22-34, 2003.

(5) Bundeszentrale für gesundheitliche Aufklärung [BZgA], Alkoholkonsum der Jugendlichen in Deutschland 2004 bis 2007 [Consumption of Alcohol by young people in Germany 2004 to 2007]. Bundeszentrale für gesundheitliche Aufklärung. 2007.

(6) Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, UK trade info Alcohol Factsheet. Crown Copyright. 2007.

(7) Swiss Alcohol Board, 2007

(8) Babor TF, Caetano R, Casswell S, Edwards G, Giesbrecht N, Graham K, Grube J, Gruenewald P, Hill L, Holder H, Homel R, Osterberg E, Rehm J, Room R and Rossow I (2003)  Alcohol and Public Policy: No Ordinary Commodity; Research and Public Policy.  Oxford University Press.


Photo Credits:
1. Cian O’Donovan

Tracking on Corporations and Health

Those seeking to modify corporate practices that harm health often have to track changes in corporate or government policy to assess their progress. Here, Corporations and Health Watch describes a few databases and websites useful for tracking local and nation policy and the social responsibility performance of major corporations.

Tracking local policies:

Looking for policies to propose to solve a local problem related to food industry practices that reduce access to healthy food? Visit Prevention Institute’s Local Policy databasean online resource of local policies that can improve opportunities for healthy eating and physical activity. For example, a search for policies on unhealthy foods located 21 specific local policies, mostly in California, enacted to reduce promotion of unhealthy foods.


Tracking federal legislation:

Open Congress tracks legislative proposals and bills on various issues and industries. Its website explains different ways to use the site. For example, OpenCongress bill pages bring together news coverage, blog buzz, insightful comments, and more. Linking to OpenCongress thus gives readers access to the big picture as well as the official details on specific legislative proposals. If you write a blog post about a bill and include the official title (for example, H.R.800), then a link to your blog post will appear on that bill page. Another section shows the most-viewed bills, or hot bills by issue area. The site includes one-click sharing to Digg, StumbleUpon, Facebook, e-mail a friend, and more. It also allows visitors to find their members of Congress and to track their actions and what people are saying about them.

To illustrate topics of interest to Corporate and Health Watch readers, visitors can track legislative proposals on the following topics, among many others:

Alcohol taxes
Automobile industry
Food industry
Pharmaceutical research
Tobacco industry


Tracking corporate responsibility:

Several organizations have ranked corporations on their social responsibility.

Fortune Magazine ranks 100 of the Fortune 500 on business responsibility.

The Ethics & Policy Integration Centre provide a user-friendly resource for tracking US and emerging global standards in corporate responsibility. It includes sections on environmental and human righs standards, but not health or consumer protection standards.

Corporate Responsibility Index The British group Business in the Community’s CR Index is the United Kingdom’s leading benchmark of responsible business. It helps companies to integrate and improve responsibility throughout their operations by providing a systematic approach to managing, measuring and reporting on business impacts in society and on the environment. Each year the CR Index lists and rates the top 100 companies in the UK.


Corporate Targeting and the Impact of Corporate Practices on Socioeconomic, Racial/ethnic, Gender and Age Inequities in Health

Selected Peer-reviewed Articles

A small but growing number of studies examine how corporate practices influence health inequities. Studies have described and analyzed how corporations target selected populations for marketing of unhealthy products, assessed the impact of these practices on differences in health behavior and health, and explored other ways that corporate decisions maintain or exacerbate health disparities.

Here Corporations and Health Watch summarizes a few of these recent reports and invites readers to submit additions to the list for subsequent posting.


Baker EA, Schootman M, Barnidge E, Kelly C. The role of race and poverty in access to foods that enable individuals to adhere to dietary guidelines. Prev Chronic Dis.2006; 3(3):A76.

Analyzes the results of an audit of community supermarkets and fast food restaurants to assess the location and availability of food choices that enable individuals to meet the dietary guidelines established by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The researchers used supermarket and fast food restaurant audit tools to assess the availability of healthy food choices in the urban area of St. Louis, Missouri. The researchers found that two factors (race and income) are associated with the location of food outlets and the selection of foods available. Individuals living in mixed or white high-poverty areas and in primarily African American areas are less likely to have access to foods that would enable them to make healthy food choices. The researchers recommend collaborations with the business community and political structures to make it economically viable to provide equal access to healthy food choices.


Brody H, Hunt LM. BiDil: assessing a race-based pharmaceutical. Ann Fam Med. 2006; 4(6): 556-60.

Analyzes scientific evidence on BiDil, the first drug approved by the Food and Drug Administration to be marketed to a single racial-ethnic group, African Americans, for the treatment of congestive heart failure. The authors discuss the problems that can arise when race is viewed as a biological-medical construct, leading to an overly simplistic assumption of a racial and hence presumed genetic difference while obscuring the “economic, social, cultural, and ethical issues lurking in the background.” The authors predict that the manufacturer will launch a publicity campaign targeting African Americans, and that family medicine doctors will be asked by their patients for the new “for blacks only” medication.


Freudenberg N, Galea S, Fahs M. Changing corporate practices to reduce cancer disparities. J Health Care Poor Underserved. 2008; 19(1):26-40.

Reviews data on disparities in cancer morbidity and mortality in the United States, and reviews evidence on corporate practices contribute to cancer risk behavior, incidence, and cancer disparities. The authors propose that the practices of the tobacco, alcohol and food industries be considered as modifiable social determinants of health. The authors conclude with recommendations for research, practice, and policy that would lead to what they term “less carcinogenic” corporate practices.


Kwate N O A. Fried chicken and fresh apples: Racial segregation as a fundamental cause of fast food density in black neighborhoods. Health and Place 2008;14:32-44.

Analyzes pathways by which racial segregation contributes to higher density of fast food outlets in Black neighborhoods in US. The author proposes that population characteristics, economic characteristics, physical infrastructure and social processes of Black neighborhoods each contribute to creation of “localized geographic areas for targeting by fast food corporations and operators.”


Kwate NO, Lee TH. Ghettoizing outdoor advertising: disadvantage and ad panel density in black neighborhoods. J Urban Health. 2007;84(1):21-31.


Investigates correlates of density of outdoor advertising in predominantly African American neighborhoods in New York City. Authors found that that black neighborhoods have more outdoor advertising space than white neighborhoods, and these spaces disproportionately market alcohol and tobacco advertisements. By linking census data with property data at the census block group level, investigators found that two neighborhood-level determinants of ad density were income level and physical decay.


Macdonald L, Cummins S, Macintyre S. Neighbourhood fast food environment and area deprivation-substitution or concentration? Appetite. 2007l;49(1):251-4.

Investigates associations between area deprivation and the location of the four largest fast-food chains in Scotland and England. The authors report statistically significant increases in density of outlets from more affluent to more deprived areas for each individual fast-food chain and all chains combined. They conclude that these findings support a “concentration” effect whereby environmental risk factors for obesity appear to be ‘concentrated’ in more deprived areas.


Monsivais P, Drewnowski A. The rising cost of low-energy-density foods. J Am Diet Assoc. 2007; 107(12): 2071-6.

Discusses the results of a study on the energy density and retail prices of 372 foods and beverages in major supermarket chains in the Seattle, WA metropolitan area in 2004 and 2006 (energy density and prices were calculated in terms of $/100g and $/1,000 kcal). The researchers discuss the role of lower energy-density foods as a strategy for managing overweight and obesity. The two-year price change for the least energy-dense foods was +19.5% whereas the price change for the most energy-dense foods was -1.8%. The researchers suggest that the lower price of energy-dense foods and the resistance of energy-dense foods to price inflation may help explain why the highest rates of obesity in the United States are observed among those with limited economic means.


Morrison MA, Krugman DM, Pumsoon P. Under the radar: smokeless tobacco advertising in magazines with substantial youth readership. Am J Public Health. 2008; 98(3): 543-48.

Reviews the level of advertising of smokeless tobacco products before and after the Smokeless Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement (STMSA). The researchers determined that the STMSA appears to have had a limited effect on adolescents’ exposure to the advertising of smokeless tobacco in magazines with high youth readership. The researchers determined that adolescent boys (aged 12-17) are at greatest risk for exposure to smokeless tobacco advertisements.


Primack BA, Bost JE, Land SR, Fine MJ. Volume of tobacco advertising in African American markets: systematic review and meta-analyses. Public Health Rep. 2007; 122(5): 607-15.

Reviews the peer-reviewed literature on the density of pro-tobacco media messages. Of the studies identified for inclusion, 11 met the eligibility criteria for the current review. The researchers pooled the results of these studies in a meta-analysis and conclude that African Americans are exposed to a higher volume of pro-tobacco advertising. The researchers also cite evidence demonstrating that African Americans bear the greatest morbidity and mortality burdens due to smoking, and that exposure to pro-tobacco media messages predicts cigarette smoking.


Schor JB, Ford M. From Tastes Great to Cool: Children’s Food Marketing and the Rise of the Symbolic. Journal of Law, Medicine & Ethics. 2007; Spring issue on Childhood Obesity: 10-21.

Discusses the increasing participation of children in the consumer markets, their heavy media use and exposure to high levels of advertising. The researchers discuss deteriorating diets and rising obesity, as well as the shift in children’s food advertisements from product attributes to symbolic messages. The researchers cite studies that demonstrate that exposure to junk food marketing is much higher for low-income children as well as racial and ethnic minority children, groups that also have higher rates of obesity.


Thompson DA, Flores G, Ebel BE, Christakis DA. Comida en venta: after-school advertising on Spanish-language television in the United States. J Pediatr. 2008; 152(4): 576-81.

Analyzes the content of food and drink commercials aired during after-school hours (3 to 9 p.m.) on two Spanish-language television stations in the United States. The researchers found that children viewing Spanish-language television in the United States after school are exposed to food and drink commercials, mostly advertising unhealthy foods, including fast foods and sugared drinks. The researchers propose that food and beverage advertising to children via Spanish-language television may contribute to the high rates of obesity among Latino children.


Yerger VB, Przewoznik J, Malone RE. Racialized geography, corporate activity, and health disparities: tobacco industry targeting of inner cities. J Health Care Poor Underserved. 2007; 18(4 Suppl): 10-38

Reviews more than 400 internal documents from the tobacco industry to explore the ways in which the tobacco industry targeted inner cities populated predominately by low-income African American residents in the 1970s-1990s. The authors cite studies demonstrating that smoking rates remain higher among the poor, the less educated and other underserved populations, despite significant reductions in the overall smoking rate in the United States. This archival analysis demonstrates how the tobacco industry’s promotion activities and the “menthol wars” fought by tobacco companies in America’s inner-cities have contributed to the tobacco-related health disparities that we observe today.

Time to reclassify malt liquor and flavored malt beverages as a “distilled spirit?”

Ten years ago, Harlem community activists and Bill Perkins, Harlem’s representative to the New York City Council, led a successful campaign to rid Harlem of malt liquor ads that they calledpornographic and disrespectful(1). Several years earlier, legal action had forced malt liquor advertisers to remove similar ads. In the ensuing decades, activists launched comparable campaigns against the advertising and distribution of malt liquor in Portland, Oregon; Chicago; Philadelphia; Washington, D.C. and many other cities, often in the African-American neighborhoods targeted by malt liquor manufactures.

Now, major U.S. breweries are facing declining revenues due to decreased demand for mass market product lines such as Budweiser and a trend toward increased wine consumption and specialty and imported beers (2,3). For the beer industry, young consumers who have not yet established brand and drink preferences are an obvious target for the more aggressive marketing of malt liquor products (2,3).

This story of marketing malt liquor and the resistance to it illustrates some of the ways that free markets can collide with public health. It also demonstrates both the potential and limits of community activism to resist the promotion of unhealthy products. ThisCorporations and Health Watchreport summarizes the health risks associated with malt liquor consumption and describes the marketing of newer flavored malt liquors and caffeinated energy malt liquors to young people. It reviews actions by community activists to restrict the sale and advertisement of malt liquor products in low-income urban communities, and concludes with policy recommendations designed to better protect young people from the risks associated with malt liquor.

The most common malt liquor beverages are produced by the major U.S. brewing companies. These include beverages produced by Miller Brewing Company (Olde English 800 and Mickey’s), Pabst Brewing Company (St. Ides and Colt 45), Anheuser-Busch (King Cobra and Hurricane), and SABMiller (Steel Reserve). Newer products includeFMBs(Flavored Malt Beverages) ormalternativessuch asHard Lemonade,and other malt liquors with added flavors and sweeteners that appeal to younger adults and teens.

Malt liquor is a type of beer that has artificially high alcohol content, produced by adding sugar, corn, rice, dextrose or other adjuncts. The resulting alcoholic beverage is too strong to be legally labeled asbeer,and so it is labeled asmalt liquor.Beers typically have an alcohol content of around 5% by volume, whereas malt liquor has an alcohol content of 6 to 11% alcohol by volume. Malt liquor, which is typically a very pale amber color, tends to lack the bitterness associated with many types of beer because it is produced without hops. Flavored malt beverages are produced in the same manner as malt liquor, but with several additional steps to remove the color and flavors typically associated with beer and malt liquor. The result is a potent, flavorless alcoholic base that manufacturers combine with candy-like flavors and coloring, then market with youth-oriented advertisements.

The public health case against malt liquor

Objections to street corner distribution of 40 ounces

Most malt liquor advertisements urge young men to adopt amasculineidentity by consuming large quantities of potent alcohol in a single sitting, a pattern of consumption that increases the risk for excessive alcohol intake and alcohol dependency (4). In a study funded by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, the University of Buffalo’s Research Institute on Addictions found that malt liquor users were more likely to smoke marijuana when they drink and to consume dangerous levels of alcohol (5). Due to the high alcohol concentration and super-sized bottles, a drinker who downs one or two 40-ounce bottles of malt liquor could be consuming the equivalent of up to 14 standard drinks in one sitting (5).

Another objection is the low cost and ready availability in small groceries in minority neighborhoods (6), stores that often ignore laws prohibiting the sale of alcohol to minors. The high density of these outlets also make them more difficult to police. A 40-ounce bottle, commonly referred to as a40,sells for less than $2, often at a price as low as 99 cents. Because malt liquor is classified as beer, many small grocery vendors are permitted to sell the product and the product is taxed at a lower rate than wine and spirits.

Currently under review by the Tax and Trade Bureau, the division of the U.S. Treasury Department that regulates malt liquor labeling, is a proposal that would allow for the advertisement of malt liquor based on potency (7). Such advertisement of malt liquor is currently prohibited, out of concern that breweries will engage instrength warsusing advertising designed to win over young drinkers with the high potency of their brews (7,8).

In sum, the industry’s marketing plans make a potent and potentially dangerous product readily available at affordable prices in our most disadvantaged communities. The alcohol industry then aggressively markets the products to young men, using sexual images that imply consumption enhances masculinity.

Objections tokiddie boozeandgirlie drinks,also known asalcopops

Another marketing strategy also raises concerns for health professionals. Recently, the alcohol industry has added caffeine, guarana, ginseng, and energy-producing claims to malt liquor products, in addition to flavoring malt liquors and test marketing fruit-flavored malt liquorshots.Flavored malt liquors such as Mike’s Hard Lemonade, a lemon-flavored malt alcoholic beverage made by a producer in Canada, are popular with teens and young adults, especially girls. This gender-specific product design and marketing is making malt liquors an equal opportunity substance, increasing the likelihood that both genders are at risk of malt liquor’s harm.

Groups such as the American Medical Association, the American Public Health Association, the International Institute for Alcohol Awareness, the Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth, and the Center for Science in the Public Interest have taken issue with marketing practices associated with malt liquor and the over-saturation of the market withkiddie boozeflavored malt beverages and advertisements (9-14). The American Medical Association has commissioned a survey of underage girls, finding that a third of all girls older than 12 have triedgirlie drinksoralcopopsand that teenage girls report drinking alcohol more often than their male counterparts (9). Alcopops is a term used to describe sweetened malt beverages and other sweetened alcoholic drinks. In their paperGirlie Drinks. . . Women’s Diseases,the American Medical Association warns young girls that manufactures use thesweet fruity flavorof thesestarter drinksto appeal to young girls (9), and the Marin Institute credits the increased availability and marketing of inexpensivealcopopsto increased female consumption of alcohol (15).

Due to pressure exerted by national substance abuse prevention organizations, numerous state attorneys general, and public interest groups, Anheuser-Busch ultimately agreed to stop the marketing of its Spykes product line in May 2007 (16-18). Spykes, which were 12% alcohol by volume, were sold within arm’s reach of many cash registers in grocery stores and delis for under $2. Sold in flavors such as spicy mango, hot chocolate, hot melon, and spicy lime, the product was designed for young girls and teens who do not like the taste of hard alcohol and beer, as a product that could be taken either as ashotor added to beer or vodka to mask the taste of alcohol with sweet, fruity flavor. Pam Erickson of the Oregon Partnership applauded the effort noting,From the beginning, we thought this product was aimed at underage drinkers and thanks to others who thought the same thing, it’s now gone(19).

Similar victories were reached back in 1997 with the wave of protest that resulted from the introduction of frozen malt liquors such as St. Ide’s Freeze and Squeeze. At that time, then Mayor Rudy Giuliani, civic and church groups, local borough presidents, and the New York City commissioner of consumer affairs united against small stores selling fruit-flavored frozen malt liquor to children and teens (20-24).

Community struggles against 40 ounce malt liquor

Activists in urban communities of color have long battled for restrictions on the sale of malt liquor, as they struggled with high rates of violence and substance abuse in their communities. Community activists have called for numerous measures, including restrictions on advertising, higher taxes, and better policing of sales to minors. Some groups have urged filmmakers and rap artists to end their promotion of malt liquor. In their desire to target young African Americans, malt liquor makers have hired such artists as LL Cool J, DJ Quik, Bone Thugs-n-Harmony, E-40, Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Eric B & Rakim, EPMD, Wu-Tang Clan, and the Geto Boys to promote their products.

Community activists have also charged that the sale of malt liquor encourages public drunkenness, loitering, urinating in public, and littering. Some research shows that malt liquor 40s are the beverage of choice for many homeless adults and unemployed adults (25), as well as teens (4). Single malt liquor sales are currently prohibited in the state of Florida, and community residents in Washington, D.C. were recently successful in banning the sale ofsinglesin several communities. These coalitions were led by politicians such as Washington D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (Democrat) and Councilman Tommy Wells (Democrat) and by community groups such as the South Columbia Heights Neighborhood Association and the Anacostia Coordinating Committee, where many residents had long complained about theoversaturation of liquor-selling establishments and the impact they’ve had on neighborhoods(26-28).

In Philadelphia, when Colt 45 malt ads began to appear on city buses and trains, residents immediately complained and the ads were removed in August 2007. Councilmember Jim Kenney complained about the ads, notingpeople have been fighting these take-out beer delis for years now(29). As in Harlem, the victories in controlling malt liquor promotion in one setting or time are often difficult to sustain, requiring activists to maintain vigilance and be ready to take on new products or advertising campaigns.

In Portland, Oregon, neighborhood activists concerned about underage and binge drinking protested a billboard advertisement for 40-ounce bottles of Olde English malt liquor. According to Carl Flipper of the Humboldt Neighborhood Target Association, the billboard showedgang members in the ‘hood having a good time drinking large containers of beer.As a result of the protests, Miller discontinued their plans for 44 billboard ads but continues to run local radio, TV and print media ads. The company refused to take any responsibility for youth drinking in a statement, writing,We aren’t responsible for all the drinking problems in your community(30).

Other African American coalitions have protested the sale of malt liquor in 40s calling itliquid crack,with members of the Citizen Reform Action Committee in Philadelphia urging manufacturers of 40s to fund anti alcohol abuse messages (31). In Chicago, an African American Catholic priest named Father Michael Pfleger has generated headlines time and again for his efforts to protect his parishioners from tobacco, alcohol, drugs and gang violence (32). With his 1983 Battle of the Billboards Campaign,he and parishioners counted 118 alcohol and tobacco billboards within a 10-block radius of the parish. He was arrested several times for destruction of property when he took part in whitewashing or removing the billboards. His actions did contribute to ending the distribution of Powermaster, a potent malt liquor sold in African American communities.

A new market for the traditional 40-ounce?

While malt liquor advertisers have traditionally targeted African American communities, the search for new markets continues. On its website, Pabst promotes Colt 45, sayingIt has become an urban American icon. If you’re looking for a thick 40, or an ice cold shorty, Colt 45 is the malt liquor that works EVERYTIMETM!Pabst encourages readers to visit their new website designed for whitehipstersand where they can create their own tales of Colt 45 on paper bags ( (33,34).

The case for tighter regulation According to a recent Advertising Age commentary, the new ad campaign is part of an effort to revive the Colt 45 brand, once viewed as anexploitative product that preyed on the urban poorand make it anedgy choice for young hipsterswith creative graphics drawn on brown paper bags (35). On the same website, Pabst adds,A big part of our promise is to be responsible—and we trust that you’ll do the same.

Public health lawyers have sought, so far without success, to reclassify sugary sweet alcopops and flavored malt beverages from their current classification as a beer to a distilled spirit, a category that allows higher taxes (8). Such measures would increase the cost of the products, making them less appealing to young teens, as well as remove them from the shelves of thousands of retail outlets not permitted to sell wines and spirits. By reclassifying malt liquor and flavored malt beverages as distilled spirits, these potent alcoholic beverages would be sold only in establishments licensed to sell distilled spirits. Such a reclassification would reduce young people’s access to alcoholic beverages, thereby reducing underage drinking, drunk driving, and the adverse health consequences associated with alcoholism and alcohol abuse. Other measures designed to reduce the harm from malt liquor include restrictions on outdoor advertisements for alcohol and restrictions on advertisements for alcoholic beverages in youth-oriented magazines and television programs.

For public health professionals and advocates, the story of malt liquor shows how declining profits and the quest for increased market share can push industry to act in ways that threaten public health. While community activism has played an important role in curbing this promotion of malt liquor, the fact that these mobilizations have persisted for more than 25 years, often being forced to re-emerge to defend previous victories, suggests the limits of this approach. In the long run, only government agencies that have the backbone and the resources to fulfill their mandates can ensure that special interests don’t threaten the health of the public.


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30. Join Together.Miller agrees to drop Portland malt liquor ads.August 17, 2000.
31. Emeno A.Coalition protests sale of malt liquor in ’40s’ Black leaders called the 40-ounce bottles ‘Liquid Crack.’ They want brewers to fund antialcohol abuse messages.The Philadelphia Inquirer, July 10, 2000.
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