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Happy? Sad? Stressed? How drinking became the answer to everything

Alcohol has become so normalised there’s hardly a situation when a drink doesn’t feel appropriate, experts say. Here’s a compelling and provocative article on how marketing obfuscates the real risks of alcohol, especially for women…

In the four years since she stopped drinking alcohol, Emily Lynn Paulson has reflected a lot on how central alcohol was to her life.

Quite often, she says, she would drink while taking care of her five children or she’d wake up groggy or unable to recall conversations. But then she’d scroll through Instagram and see a friendly face holding up a mug emblazoned, “Rosé All Day”.

It was so normalised: There never seemed to be an occasion when drinking wasn’t billed as the appropriate response.

“If you’re stressed, have a drink; if you’re nervous, have a drink; if you want fun, have a drink; if you’re grieving, have a drink,” Paulson says. “It’s a catch all for everything.

“It made me think, gosh, this must be OK — everyone around me is doing the same thing.”

Paulson, who last year founded Sober Mom Squad, an online support network for mothers who have stopped or want to curb their drinking, pins this normalisation on the alcohol industry which, for years, has targeted women with its advertising, and made people far less likely to question their intake.

Less than half of the population is even aware that alcohol is a carcinogen. It can also lead to other health problems such as liver disease and heart disease — especially for women.

Taking a lead from tobacco

The inspiration for alcohol’s marketing approach with women came from the tobacco industry, which wooed women by tapping into their desire for equality.

In 1929, a time when it was taboo for women to smoke in public, marketers hired women to smoke their “torches of freedom” while protesting inequality in an Easter Sunday parade. By the 1960s, Virginia Slims started its influential campaign, “You’ve come a long way, baby.”

In ads, women were pictured, impeccably dressed and oozing self confidence, cigarette in hand. These liberated women were contrasted by images of their sepia-toned forebears who had to sneak cigarettes and risked being punished by their husbands for taking a drag.

Smoking became symbolic. It wasn’t just an accessory or a habit, “it was sold as empowerment,” says David Jernigan, a professor at Boston University School of Public Health and the former director for the Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Alcohol ads have gone the same way by aligning the product with female liberation and sophistication. “We have a repeat of Virginia Slims,” Jernigan says.

Alcohol companies began expanding their range of products, Jernigan explains. The push began with wine coolers in the 1980s and continued in the 1990s when alcopops — sweet and fruity alcoholic beverages — came onto the market.

The term, which was born from combining the words alcohol and soda pop, applies to drinks like Zima, Smirnoff Ice and Mike’s Hard Lemonade.

Though the companies never announced it outright, Jernigan says the products were positioned for entry level drinkers and people who didn’t like the taste of alcohol.

“Read: young women,” he says. “We called them beer with training wheels.”

A 2012 paper in the American Journal of Public Health notes the preference of alcopops over beer among high-school girls.

The industry held on to those female consumers, Jernigan says, by evolving with them as they became mothers. “And now we have MommyJuice,” he explains, referring to a wine brand, but which is also a popular term for the alcohol that moms keep in their insulated cups.

“We have Mommy’s Little Helper.” (The latter term was first used to refer to the tranquilizers prescribed to women in the mid-20th century to deal with the challenges of motherhood.)

To alcohol companies, Jernigan says, women are a market.

The trend toward female-focused advertising is not surprising given the rise in women’s socioeconomic status, says Linda Tuncay Zayer, a professor of marketing at the Quinlan School of Business at Loyola University Chicago. Advertisements linking alcohol with sophistication, elegance and sociability have become commonplace.

“It’s positioned as a way to pamper, escape and relax,” Zayer says…..

New York Times: Read the full article

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