A month ago, I was interviewed by National Public Radio about the marketing practices of alcohol companies. The question: are these companies targeting women and is it leading to a surge in drinking problems among women. The article with my comments can be read in the article but in short, yes and no.
As for companies marketing to women? Of course the alcohol industry (and many other industries) markets to women. The better quesiton to ask is why this would ever be considered a problem? Women are the leading purchasers in this country of everything from light bulbs to cars to groceries. Indistries understand this and naturally try to attract women to their products. For anyone to suggest that women are so fragile that upon seeing an advertisement for alcohol they drop everything (including the kid) and head straight for the liquor store is silly at best and insulting, sexist, and patronizing at worst.
Yet, this is exactly what the CDC is telling women, in direct conflict with the data on how women drink. As I mentioned in the interview (and about which Carrie Lukas wrote brilliantly in her Forbes column), among women age 26 and older, 2.6 percent would be considered heavy drinkers in 2011. That proportion was 2.2 percent in 2002, according to the government's National Survey on Drug Use and Health. I hardly think a .4 percent increase in heavy drinkers in a 9-year period is worth calling for major regulations on the alcohol industry.
And now, it appears that women in the U.K. are moving even further away from binge drinking; preferring low-alcohol beverages. The Daily Mail reported on this trend last week:
Speaking about the trend, Ewan Lacey, General Manager of International Wine and Spirit Competition (IWSC) said: 'We have seen a doubling of low alcohol entries at the IWSC, predominantly from wines coming from regions that traditionally make low alcohol wines such as Asti in Italy.
Rosie Davenport, Editor of Off License News added: 'Demand for wines that are lower in alcohol and with fewer calories has grown from pretty much zero into a £36.9 million market in recent years.
'Like buying reduced-calorie foods, some wine drinkers want to watch the number that are in their glass, which is why retailers have been stocking a bigger range of bottles at 5.5 per cent ABV to meet this need.
'Aside from the health benefits, some shoppers also prefer the taste of these lighter style wines, especially during the summer when they want something more refreshing and less full-bodied to enjoy in the sunshine.
While this story centers on the drinking habits of women in England, the important takeaway from this story is that women want lots of choices and given a variety of choices, women often make very good decisions about thier health and welfare. The CDC and certain anti-alcohol writers might want to portray binge drinking among women as an "under-recognized issue" but this sort of alarmism simply doesn't match up with data on alcohol abuse in the United States. In other words, limiting those choices, under the guise of protecting women, won't do much to curb abuse of alcohol.