The Beer Facts


The ads are slick and funny. But the product—and its effects—are no laughing matter.

Welcome to Reality 101. In this class we’re going to spend our time analyzing beer advertising in TV commercials and magazine ads. Then we’ll look at the reality of drinking beer. Watch the screen closely. We think you’ll be surprised.

Advertisement 1: Here’s an ad that has run in several major magazines featuring two women and two men splashing through white water. All four are wearing stylish swimsuits, they’re all very tan, and they’re each holding a can of beer. Superimposed behind them is the logo of a beer company. Looks like fun, right? But remember they are paid models doing what the photographer tells them to do. Is this an honest representation of beer drinking?

Reality: “The fact is, beer ads not only have appealing activities but appealing people too,” says Kristin, * a recovering drug abuser who got her start in drugs by drinking beer. “But they never show the hangovers, or alcoholism, or anything like that. Beer is a drug. It takes you from reality.”

“Sure you’re happy for a little while. Then you’re vomiting in the bathroom and waking up sick the next morning with a really bad headache,” says Aaron, another teenager who started with beer and then turned to other drugs before finally seeking help. Can you imagine a beer company running a commercial during a football game that shows the detrimental effect its product has on the consumer?

Let’s move to our next example.

Commercial 2: This one is intended to make you laugh. The actors and actresses are saying funny things, and the beer company’s slogan is pretty catchy. It even makes you laugh. Is beer funny?

Reality: Three boys got in a sports car with a high school classmate after she offered them a ride. She had been drinking. On the winding road toward her house, the car was going between 70 and 80 miles per hour when it spun out of control and hit a road barrier.

The driver escaped from the car, but the boys were trapped inside. The car exploded, killing all three.

The sister of one of the victims says, “Other people say, ‘You can drink; just be careful when you drink.’ But I don’t want anything to do with drinking because it took my brother away from me.” Is beer funny?

“Drinking is trivialized because so many people do it. That doesn’t make it okay,” says Dr. Robert DuPont, a Maryland psychiatrist who was the first director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse in the United States.

“A person who is looking for a full life need not include alcohol in any way, because the alcohol is not in the least going to contribute to a better life for that person. There is no gain, but there is a cost.”

Commercial 3: Check this one out. Here the beer company is using terms such as “pure and natural” and “cold-brewed” to describe its product.

Reality: “You see beer commercials and they say it’s done with natural water and it’s cold-brewed or heat-pasteurized and all that kind of stuff,” Kristin continues. “They make it sound like a health food almost.” Health food?

“A lot of people like the taste of beer, they like to drink beer, and they don’t end up as alcoholics or drug addicts,” says Rick, a former beer drinker. “The problem I see is that once you start drinking, the Spirit is going to withdraw from you. So although your drinking might not get out of hand, you still can’t have the influence of the Holy Ghost with you because you’re drinking.”

Commercial 4: This is an old trick advertisers dreamed up years ago. The idea is to get famous athletes to promote the product. Will the consumer equate this apparent glamour with the beer these athletes and ex-athletes are paid to promote? Is beer glamorous?

Reality: Unfortunately, these ads are successful in targeting the intended audience—mainly teenagers. U.S. Surgeon General Antonia C. Novello cites discussions she has had with teens who have told her the ads do make drinking look glamorous in their eyes. “They mention things like ‘It makes you look like you’re accepted’ and ‘Girls in the ads are skinny and I want to be like that,’” Dr. Novello says.

The least of Melissa’s worries now is whether she is like the actresses in beer commercials. “I can’t control it if I do take that drink because I’m an addict,” she says. “Because of alcohol and drugs, I have a hard time remembering things I learn. You have fun until you hit rock bottom; then it’s not fun anymore.” Glamorous?

Commercial 5: A group of people—all young—are mingling on the beach. The sun is shining, and they all seem to be drinking beer. Everybody is laughing and smiling. They all look so happy. The message seems to be that beer makes you cool.

Reality: “I wasn’t socially very good and wouldn’t do much with girls. Although I did date some, I wasn’t terribly popular so I would go out with my friends and get drunk,” says Andrew, who no longer drinks. “There were a lot of things I could have done besides drinking that would have been a better use of my time.”

Dr. Novello has also found that 75 percent of the eight million teenagers who drink in the U.S. every week do so for social reasons. Of those six million, she says, many believe alcohol makes them witty and charming.

“Socially, my self-esteem and social skills went down. I didn’t have the bad-guy image I wanted, and I didn’t get that sense of strength I thought I’d get from drinking and drugs,” says Justin. “Instead I lost a lot of memory skills and common sense. A lot of my friends just called me ‘Duh.’ I was that burned out.” Witty and charming?

Commercial 6: A beer truck parks on a street. Some people get out and convert the truck into a giant music-blasting boom box. All sorts of people gather around the truck and begin dancing. All the people are young.

Reality: In the U.S., it’s illegal to drink beer if you’re under the age of 21.

“Beer is accessible, and it’s glorified in segments of the youth culture,” explains Dr. DuPont. “But if you’re underage, it’s illegal.”

“Alcohol consumption frequently leads to crime, sexual misconduct, personal injuries, higher school-dropout rates, and other consequences that hamper the ability of adolescents and children to stay healthy, to stay in school, and to take charge of their futures,” says Dr. Novello.

“Beer is the easiest thing for teenagers to get, so they take one beer, which is your first step,” says Sarah. She should know. She was underage when she took her first drink. Beer was the first thing she tried, before becoming addicted to illegal drugs. “Beer is the worst abused drug there is,” she adds.

“Seven million of the students who drink in the United States buy their own beverages,” Dr. Novello continues. “Teenagers use fake IDs, buy from stores that easily sell to them, or from stores that have young clerks.” In the U.S. alone, 44 states allow minors to sell alcohol in stores and restaurants without adult supervision.

“I remember sitting in assemblies about drugs thinking that’s not going to happen to me,” says Melissa. “When I was 12, I went to a party and everybody was drinking. So I just grabbed me a beer and started drinking. Now I’m an alcoholic because I can’t stop.”

We’ve already listed numerous reasons why not to drink. But the strongest reason to never start, or to stop if you already are drinking, is spiritual. “How can we expect divine acceptance when as a nation we are drunken through the staggeringly increased uses of intoxicating liquors.

The human body is the tabernacle of the spirit and God expects that it be kept clean and unimpaired,” says President Ezra Taft Benson (The Teachings of Ezra Taft Benson, Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1988, p. 477).

Alcohol in general, and beer specifically, is a problem, especially among youth. In the Church, we’ve been warned about it since the days of Joseph Smith. “That inasmuch as any man drinketh wine or strong drink among you, behold it is not good, neither meet in the sight of your Father” (D&C 89:5).

Now that you’ve learned some of the motives behind beer commercials and ads, can you really trust them?

Reality: Dr. DuPont likes to tell the story of the time he was visiting with an executive of one of America’s largest breweries. During their discussion, the two men were talking about one of the company’s beer-making operations and the topic of the factory’s employee cafeteria came up. The conversation went like this:

Beer company executive: “We used to serve beer in our cafeteria to the employees on their lunch hours and breaks, but we don’t anymore.”

Dr. DuPont: “Why did you stop?”

Beer company executive: “Why do you think?”

The Trap

Ask Rob Lane if substance abuse can hurt you, and he’s got evidence it can.

The 18-year-old freshman from the University Second Ward, Rincon Arizona Stake, is part of a research team at the University of Arizona Medical Center studying how alcohol, tobacco, and cocaine abuse influences cells, antibodies, and the immune system.

“It isn’t a question of whether abuse harms you,” Rob says. “It’s a question of how quickly and how extensively.”

Lee Murphy, one of two returned missionaries who work with Rob, states the case even more dramatically. “We test laboratory rats over a period of six to eight weeks. In that time, 60 percent of the animals subjected to cocaine and alcohol will die. It’s like they’re in a trap. When they’re on a drug, their behavior changes severely if they don’t get the drug. But if they continue to get it, chances are it will kill them.”

Chad McRae, the other returned missionary, and Gail Crawford, another LDS student working in the lab, help Rob summarize data. As their computers analyze screen after screen of statistics Rob says, “Isn’t it obvious? Don’t abuse drugs. Once you start down that road, you may never recover.”

Rob, Lee, Chad, and Gail are only students, and their work is in support of a lot of others with more expertise. But ask any one of them what research has taught them about the Word of Wisdom, and their answer is quick and sure: “It’s true.”

[photos] Photography by Craig Dimond; prop art by Dave McDonald

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