Underage and abusive drinkers very profitable for the alcohol industry

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According to new research in the U.S. the underage drinking market is making the alcohol industry a neat $23 billion a year and that figure represents 17.5 percent of all money spent on alcohol in the U.S. annually.

The new study, the 'Commercial Value of Underage Drinking and Adult Abusive and Dependent Drinking to the Alcohol Industry', was conducted by researchers at the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University.

The researchers say abusive drinking by both underage people and adults accounted for $25.8 billion a year which is almost half of all money spent on alcohol yearly.

CASA says this indicates a conflict of interest for the alcohol industry between profitability and the public health.

CASA's chairman and president, and former U.S. Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare, Joseph A. Califano, Jr., says underage and pathological drinkers are the alcohol industry's most valuable customers and spend at least $48 billion in beer, wine and liquor each year or 37.5 percent of the total.

Califano believes self regulation by the alcohol industry is a delusion and it is reckless for society to rely on an industry with such an enormous financial interest in alcohol consumption by children, teens, alcoholics and alcohol abusers to curb such drinking.

Using information garnered from four national studies, CASA were able to to estimate the value to the alcohol industry of underage drinking, as well as the value of abusive and dependent drinking.

The study included a total of 260,580 people aged 12 and older and found that over 25% of underage drinkers met the standard criteria for alcohol abuse and dependence, compared to 9.6% of those 21 and older.

CASA says underage drinking and alcoholism have a close association and those who use alcohol before age 21 are twice as likely to become addicted, while the risk of becoming an alcoholic is four times greater among those who begin drinking before their 15th birthday.

Early initiation of alcohol use supports the industry in both respects.

The research also found that alcohol abuse and addiction cost the nation an estimated $220 billion in 2005, more than cancer ($196 billion) and obesity ($133 billion) and each day more than 13,000 children and teens take their first drink.

Former U.S. Surgeons General Julius Richmond (President Carter), Antonia Novello (President George H. W. Bush), and David Satcher (Presidents Clinton and George W. Bush) and former First Lady Betty Ford have joined Califano and CASA in calling for federal regulation of the alcohol industry's advertising and marketing practices.

CASA is also recommending a public health campaign, education of health care providers, more effective prevention and treatment programs, and insurance coverage for treatment.

The research is published in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, May 2006.

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