Alcohol Equivalency & Public Health

Public Questions Whether a Drink is a Drink, Finds Industry Message Misleading

New Survey Finds Majority of Americans Question Efforts Claiming Alcohol “Equivalency” As a Public Health Issue to Be Suspect, Self-serving

The Center for Government Reform ( released a national survey that found most Americans dispute the concept of “Equivalency” among alcoholic beverages. The results lead the Center to question efforts to promote “Equivalency” as an example of how an industry can manufacture grassroots support for its legislative or regulatory agenda by misconstruing business and marketplace issues as “public interest” issues.

The “Equivalency” theory has been advanced by the distilled spirits industry ostensibly as a public safety message. Claiming that “a drink is a drink” and that there is no difference among beer, wine, or hard liquor if they are served in standard sizes may seem reasonable at first glance. However, the industry campaign appears to be more a strategic ploy than an effort to curb irresponsible consumption of alcohol. officials commented, “Equivalency clearly is a Trojan Horse message. Creating a public perception of parity among clearly different types of alcohol is the first step in the liquor industry’s plan to erase any differences among beer, wine, and hard liquor when it comes to taxation, licensing, and marketing, Duping the public in order to levy more taxes and regulation is not in anyone’s best interest.”

Historically, beer, wine, and liquor have been taxed at different rates and there are different regulatory requirements for each in the areas of marketing and licensure. The spirits industry has long sought to level the playing field with wine and beer as part of an effort to expand its market share. noted that “This is a classic example of how commercial interests use the mantle of public health and safety to advance their agenda. Inevitably this results in more taxes and regulation, and is clearly something we strongly oppose.”

The survey shows Americans recognize that the spirits industry has an ulterior motive. 75% of respondents believe that “Equivalency” is being promoted to make liquor seem less harmful, and 62% believe it’s being done to increase liquor’s appeal with young drinkers.

The survey is a nationally representative and census-balanced telephone study conducted in late October, 2004 among 500 Americans 18 years of age or older. The poll was conducted by Widmeyer Research and Polling of Washington, DC for the Center for Government Reform. The margin of error for the study is +/- 4.4%.