Thursday, January 20, 2011

BACCHUS Network is Full of Hypocrisy: Group Supporting Smokefree Campus Policies is Actually Alcohol Front Group

Smoke-Free Campus Policies are Hypocritical and Do Little to Promote College Health

An article in Tuesday's Inside Higher Ed blog describes a new certification program offered by the Bacchus Network, a non-profit organization that promotes college-based health education. The program awards ratings to universities based in part on the degree to which they ban the use of tobacco products on their campuses.

According to the article: "Over the past few years, as the movement to turn campuses smoke- and tobacco-free gained momentum, many onlookers and health experts have asked: Is this the real thing? How enforceable, in 24/7, bacchanalian college life, are smoking bans? Completely so, according to the Bacchus Network, a nonprofit health education organization. Bacchus is offering a new accreditation program that promises to put an end to the doubts about which campuses have kicked the habit by offering, for a fee, to certify universities tobacco- and smoke-free."

"Colleges can be certified diamond, gold, or silver, depending on the lengths they go in order to rid their campuses and their investment portfolios of a relationship to tobacco. A diamond-rated university, for example, does not accept funding from tobacco companies or invest in them, and tobacco use is banned campuswide. The lower ratings drop the investment requirement and take a more lenient stance on campus tobacco use. A silver rating is roughly equivalent to a smoke-free campus, or one banning the use of cigarettes, cigars and other smoke-producing products. Gold and diamond indicate tobacco-free, meaning no snuff, chewing tobacco or other smokeless tobacco products." ...

"Last year Bacchus offered the tobacco certification service and, after five colleges paid the $295 application fee, awarded two colleges -- Winona State University and Oklahoma State University -- silver and gold certificates, respectively. Bacchus says this year’s program, which is taking applications now, will draw even more interest. The program is meant to combat the problem of colleges failing to make good on their tobacco policies. 'Some campuses might say that they’re tobacco-free, but they have a designated smoking area outside their athletic facilities," says Quinn-Zobeck [Bacchus's director of education and training].'"

The Rest of the Story

The Bacchus Network program is a load of hypocrisy. At the same time that the Bacchus Network is demanding that colleges ban all tobacco use on their campuses, it is not demanding that these same colleges ban all alcohol use on their campuses. However, alcohol use is a far greater hazard and causes far more morbidity, mortality, damage, and personal tragedy than someone smoking a cigarette in a parking lot or in a remote location of a campus.

If anything, banning alcohol use on a college campus is more justified from a public health perspective than banning all tobacco use. A ban on tobacco use on college campuses is purely paternalistic. It is not necessary to ban smoking everywhere on campus to protect nonsmokers from the hazards of secondhand smoke exposure. And it is not necessary to ban smokeless tobacco use to protect nonsmokers.

In contrast, the use of alcohol on college campuses causes significant adverse consequences even for nonusers. For example, date rape is common occurrence that is heavily influenced by alcohol use by the perpetrator. Drunk driving is another example.

While Oklahoma State University may have won a gold certificate for banning smoking anywhere on its campus, it certainly does not earn a gold star for preventing alcohol-related morbidity and mortality. Just four years ago, one of its students died due to excessive alcohol use. Nevertheless, the university still allows alcohol use in university apartments and suites.

Moreover, Oklahoma State is or at least was apparently home to physical abuse and assault on campus. According to this article, members of a college fraternity regularly assaulted student pledges with wooden paddles, exposing bare muscle in at least one case.

Why this hypocritical stance by the Bacchus Network?

Could the answer be ...

... that the organization, according to this article, apparently receives or at least has received funding from the alcohol industry?

And that Anheuser-Busch has a seat on the Board of Directors?

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.

Thus, Bacchus is operating essentially as a front group for the alcohol industry. And it is doing a good job. Nowhere on the Bacchus site do I find any mention of alcohol advertising and the role it plays in the dangerous use of alcohol by college students.

In fact, Bacchus serves the industry well by taking the focus off the marketing practices of the industry and placing it on lack of education or awareness among college students. This is well worth the 120 grand that the alcohol industry is shelling out each year for this front group.

Frankly, I find it despicable that a network that purports to support college health would accept money from the alcohol companies -- which play a major role in the devastation that alcohol use causes on college campuses throughout the country.

The rest of the story is that smoke-free college campus policies are full of hypocrisy. The very same groups supporting these policies are not interested in banning alcohol use on campus, even though alcohol use causes far more damage and has severe adverse consequences for nonusers, something that is not true for smoking in most outdoor campus areas or for smokeless tobacco use.

In the case of the Bacchus Network, this hypocrisy has a ready explanation: the group acts as a front group for the alcohol industry. No wonder Bacchus is focusing on regulating something which has little public health impact. It doesn't want to go where the action really is - banning alcohol use on campus and curtailing the marketing of alcohol to college students - because it knows where its bread is buttered.

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