March 26, 2002
Dear President x:
On behalf of the Office of Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse at the American Medical Association, which administers A Matter of Degree: The National Effort to Reduce High-Risk Drinking Among College Students, I am writing to share our concerns about the ongoing partnership between Anheuser-Busch and the National Association of State Universities and Land Grant Colleges (NASULGC), and to ask for your support to end it. As you know, this liaison has resulted in a nationally televised advertising campaign promoting "safe celebrations” during the NCAA basketball tournament. I've enclosed a copy of our full-page advertisement that will appear in the March 29th edition of the Chronicle of Higher Education, in response to this campaign. Also enclosed is a copy of our recent publication, Partner or Foe, which discusses the problems of partnering with the alcohol industry.
While we support the well-intentioned efforts to address the alcohol-fueled violence that occurred last season, we know that a “celebrate responsibly” message can have so many connotations as to be meaningless. The ad neither specifies alcohol as a cause of such problems nor indicates steps to take to prevent such problems. Such an approach would contradict the beverage industry stance that the problem is solely one of irresponsible individual behavior. The ad is thus simply an opportunity for America's largest brewer to market its products and improve its image. Using university mascots with the Anheuser Busch logo creates a powerful visual image in the minds of millions of NCAA fans – including impressionable young children - which perpetuates the erroneous belief that alcohol and college life are inseparable. Moreover, we question the rationale for partnering with the very company that produces the fuel of sexual assault and other violence, fatal injury and death by alcohol poisoning among America's college students.
High risk/binge drinking by students is a major public health problem in this country, and a source of numerous problems for institutions of higher learning in America. As you are well aware, 44 percent of college students engage in dangerous drinking, and many do so frequently, placing themselves and others at risk of a host of alcohol-related problems. While countless numbers of college students continue to suffer from the effects of high-risk drinking, Anheuser-Busch is capitalizing on this opportunity to market the very products that exacerbate this problem, under the clever guise of public service. This negatively reflects on NASULGC. Its esteemed universities possess the skills and resources to develop effective alcohol prevention strategies untainted by the influence of a company whose success depends upon its ability to expand market share. Alcohol education should be left to educators, not to those who profit from alcohol sales.
If Anheuser-Busch were truly interested in promoting a new normative message for the minority of NCAA fans who choose to abuse alcohol, perhaps it would end its advertising and marketing promotions to undergraduates, many of whom are under the legal drinking age of 21. It might also cease to feature its logo so prominently in its educational materials. Some might say that since the beverage industry is part of the problem, it ought to be part of the solution. Unfortunately, the alcohol beverage industry has yet to acknowledge that it is part of the problem – much less to identify how. Their part of the problem is that they deny they are part of the problem – while they blame everyone else.
As many campuses have already done, we urge you to enact campus or system-wide policies to protect your university logo, mascots and prestige from corporate efforts to promote alcohol and to promote the reputations of those who produce it. We ask you to end any sponsorship of campus activities and programs by Anheuser-Busch or any other alcohol company. It is incumbent upon us as leaders of higher education and public health to set a higher standard and to seriously address the problem of high-risk drinking among our youth. The consequences of dangerous drinking are real, and parents are concerned.
A recent AMA study found that 95 percent of parents believe that alcohol is a very serious threat to their college age children, and 81 percent said they feel more comfortable sending their child to a college that has strong policies or programs to deter underage and binge drinking. Seventy-seven percent of parents favor banning alcohol advertising in college sports. For the health and safety of our youth and the future of higher education, we need NASULGC to be a partner in prevention, not a partner to the alcohol industry.