I’ve been watching — in fact, the first question I asked when I took on this project was “Why? Why are liquor stores full?” In North America, anyway, a wine’s called “Mommy Juice,” and “Girls’ Night Out” wine, and, yes, “Happy Bitch,” and “Cupcake” wine, and “French Rabbit” wine.
And why are there all these coolers, and why is there “Skinnygirl” vodka, mango-flavored vodka, berry coolers? These aren’t manly drinks.
I ask myself what happened, and I went to the experts, and I heard the most incredible story that, in the mid-1990s, the liquor distillery men looked around — and they were mostly men — looked around the world and said, “Beer’s cleaning our clock. Beer’s fun, beer’s sport, beer’s entertainment. All the Johnnie Walker drinkers were dying out. What are we going to do?”
They looked around the world and said, “Who’s underperforming, who’s not drinking?” And they saw women, a whole gender!
A whole gender, and thus was born the alcopop, those prepackaged little drinks, vodka-infused, rum-infused, sweet, aimed at girls, aimed at young girls.
It’s high school that’s the initiation of drinking most commonly; university is the escalation.
Sweet drinks to steer young women away from beer. They’re called “chick beer,” they’re called “cocktails with training wheels,” “starter drinks,” and they were enormously successful.
So by the time that young women get to university, they’ve given them up, but they’re drinking vodka.
So you go onto any campus — and I’ve been on a lot of campuses recently — you go on any campus, and you look at what’s happening, and young men and women are playing drinking games.
Forget the frat boy stereotype; it’s equal opportunity, They’re playing drinking games, and he’s drinking beer and she’s drinking vodka or tequila. She’s two-thirds his size. She’s two-thirds his size, and she probably didn’t eat before that evening, because often young women these days don’t eat before a date.
And we all know that she’s at a disadvantage, we all know she’s drinking the stronger drink, and we all know that alcohol is the number one date rape drug, and it has been for years.
So that’s the story, that’s the story of what’s happening.
And you ask yourself about this. You ask yourself about why this generation is not slowing down in their 20s, and they’re not slowing down in their 30s.
And think about this: that increase is the steepest for young women between the ages of 24 and 36 — 24 and 36, those are the same women who are giving birth to 60% of the babies.
And the FASD numbers, rates, are going like this as well. This is not a pretty picture.
So, I’m not trying to rain on our parade, I’m not trying to rain on your parade, and I’m not trying to be a killjoy. I’m not saying, “If you can drink fabulously well and manage it well, good for you.”
But if you’re female, know that safe drinking guidelines would say no more than 10 drinks in a week. Know that, know that.
And even if you are drinking safely … I’m going to ask because this is very dark, when I’m looking out into the audience, I’m not going to ask you to raise your hands.
But if I were to ask you to raise your hands and say, “Is there anyone in this audience that hasn’t been touched by someone’s drinking?”
A mother or a father’s, a son or a daughter’s, a sister or brother’s, or maybe your own. I would bet that no one could lift a hand. I would bet, in our culture, no one could.
So we ask ourselves the question, “What should we do? What should we do on a global level, on a large policy level?” That’s what I’m interested in.
I’m going to tell you about a frog pond. I’m going to tell you about a frog pond, a strange frog pond where there are a growing number of frogs that are developing really ugly warts, and a growing number are growing infertile.
And everyone says, “Better send in the surgeons. Better send in the infertility experts.”
And someone else very wise says, “Maybe there’s something in the water. Maybe, just maybe, there’s something in the water.”
And I’m here to say there is something in the water. We are awash in alcohol marketing. We don’t even notice it anymore. We’re awash in alcohol marketing, we’re awash in alcohol.
So, if we are smart, we will push on the three levers that we pushed on with tobacco. We will push on marketing; we’ll reduce it. And certainly, marketing on Facebook that’s aimed at young people who are underage, where marketers are tweeting and interacting as a person, as a friend.
We will definitely look at pricing. Let’s talk about Britain. In Britain, the price – often alcohol is cheaper than milk or cheaper than orange juice, and you have young women in their 20s developing end-stage liver disease in the UK.
In the US, you’ve got gas stations selling alcohol. So accessibility is the third thing that you press on. That’s what you do if you’re running a country. And that’s one thing.
But if you’re — as an individual, as I said — if you’re fine with your own drinking, then more power to you, enjoy yourself. But if you’re drinking like I drank, if you’re drinking to numb, that’s another thing.