Like tobacco, alcohol kills far more people than do all illegal drugs combined. Heavy alcohol use can cause irreversible brain damage, hepatitis, heart disease, cirrhosis of the liver, and cancers of the digestive system while reducing the body’s ability to fight infections such as tuberculosis and pneumonia. In addition, by diminishing individuals’ ability to make rational choices, alcohol use contributes to deaths from drownings, fires, violence, and accidents, and it increases the odds of engaging in unsafe sexual behavior. Yet the U.S. government’s “War on Drugs” targets only illegal drugs.

To ensure that the government continues to treat alcohol as a beverage rather than a drug, alcohol manufacturers contribute heavily to political campaigns. Manufacturers also have worked to define the individual drinker rather than alcohol itself as the problem by promoting the idea that alcoholism only affects susceptible individuals, funding research on presumed biological roots of alcoholism, supporting laws that make it illegal for minors to drink, and opposing laws that would make it illegal to sell alcohol to minors.

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At the same time, alcohol manufacturers have endeavored to sell drinking to the public as a pleasurable “lifestyle.” Much of this marketing either directly or indirectly targets youths. For example, manufacturers are most likely to advertise in magazines, on television and radio shows, during athletic events that attract large youth audiences, and at popular spring break destinations. In addition, alcohol manufacturers have increased sales to youths by de- veloping “alcopops”: extra-sweet, fruit-flavored alcoholic beverages such as Hard Lemonade, Blast, and Skyy Blue. Advertisements for these and other alcoholic beverages typically associate alcohol with adulthood, sexual adventure, status, free- dom, excitement, and pleasure. Although in recent years alcohol manufacturers have responded to public and governmental pressure and reduced their advertising to youths, on average young people are still more often exposed to alcohol ads than are adults.


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