Friday, January 21, 2011

The Bacchus Network Reaches a New Height for Hypocrisy: Alcohol Industry-Funded Front Group Demands that Colleges Not Accept Tobacco Company Funding

In what is surely the height of hypocrisy and what must become the new example for defining hypocrisy, the Bacchus Network -- a non-profit organization that promotes college-based health education in the areas of tobacco and alcohol -- is demanding that colleges reject tobacco company funding and sponsorship while itself accepting (and hiding) its own funding from an alcohol company.

The Bacchus Network offers a certification program by which universities can apply for a Silver, Gold, or Diamond award designation depending on the extent to which they: (1) ban the use of tobacco products on their campuses; and (2) prohibit the sponsorship of events and organizations as well as the funding of research by tobacco companies.

In order to be eligible for Gold or Diamond award consideration, a university certify the following:

1. "Tobacco industry and related company sponsorship of campus groups, events, individuals, and departments is prohibited. This includes scholarships, sponsorship of faculty positions, and recruiting for employment."

2. "Tobacco industry and related company sponsorship of athletic events and athletes is prohibited."

In order to gain Diamond award consideration, a university must also certify the following:

3. "The college/university divests all tobacco company stocks and holdings."

4. "The college/university does not accept any direct funding from tobacco companies."

This is all in addition to the requirement that colleges ban smoking on their campuses. (All tobacco use must be banned on campus for the Gold or Diamond awards.)

To apply for these awards, a university must also pay $295 to the Bacchus Network.

The Rest of the Story

Although the Bacchus Network web site makes no mention of the fact that the organization is funded by the alcohol industry, if you search its financial records, you'll see that it reported contributions from Anheuser-Busch of $120,000 in 2009 and $190,000 in 2008.

In addition, Anheuser-Busch has a seat on its Board of Directors.

Thus, not only is the Bacchus Network heavily funded by the alcohol industry, but it is apparently hiding that funding. You have to search deep into the financial records to find out that it is heavily funded by Anheuser-Busch.

This is the classic definition of an alcohol industry front group.

To boot, the web site is obsessed with individual-level interventions that put all the responsibility for alcohol use on the college students. The entire blame for the problem is on the individual. Nowhere on the site does it discuss the role of alcohol industry marketing and in particular, the marketing of alcohol on college campuses.

This is of course no surprise, as I would certainly expect that an alcohol company contribution of $120,000 would be enough to deter any thought of actually discussing the role of alcohol marketing on alcohol use among college students.

The rest of the story, then, is that while the Bacchus Network demands that colleges not accept tobacco industry funding, the organization itself is heavily funded by an alcohol company.

It is laughable that Anheuser-Busch is paying out money like this to tell colleges that it is despicable to take tobacco money, but at the same time, it is fine to take alcohol money. Which kills more college students each year? Tobacco or alcohol. Clearly, the latter.

It is a brilliant scheme by Anheuser-Busch. By making these annual payments, the company is getting its money's worth. In return, the Bacchus Network is taking the focus off of alcohol marketing and putting it onto individual education and responsibility. It is also taking the focus off of banning alcohol use on campus and putting it on banning tobacco use on campus.

This is money very well spent for the alcohol industry.

I thought it was the height of hypocrisy when the American Legacy Foundation refused to give money to schools that took tobacco money, while nearly every penny of the Foundation's budget comes from the tobacco companies and the Foundation sought voluntary donations from the tobacco companies to fund its own work.

The Bacchus Network is challenging Legacy, however, for achieving the pinnacle of hypocrisy. This is going to be hard to beat.

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