Demon Rum is Killing White Women

by Dr. SooMi Lee-Samuel MD

Certain products on the market have an inherent gender bias. The best advertising team in the world cannot make men use feminine hygiene products or buy pantyhose; it just is not going to happen. Which is why when a potential audience “can” be exploited, the advertising community unleashes their best and brightest.

This is exactly what has been happening throughout the past decade regarding the product of alcohol. The problem: women were not consuming enough. The solution: change the advertising strategy.

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In no time, ads depicted women tossing back shots with the guys and enjoying all manner of alcoholic beverages with female friends. Perhaps the largest market was mothers, especially those with young children.  The overriding message was that a mother could not possibly cope without the promise of wine at the end of the day. The idea was to legitimize the use of alcohol by all women.

Naturally, the ads worked and now we see the consequences, and they are dire, particularly for white women. More than a quarter of these women admit to drinking multiple times a week and binge drinking is up 40 per cent since 1999, according to a Washington Post analysis of federal health data. Interestingly, a similar increase is not being seen in black or Hispanic women.

As a result, we are seeing a startling increase in early mortality. The rate of alcohol-related deaths for white women ages 35 to 54 has more than doubled since 1999, accounting for 8 per cent of deaths in this age group in 2015.

Unfortunately, when it comes to alcohol, there is not a level playing field between men and women. Blood-alcohol levels climb faster and stay elevated longer in women and studies indicate that women have lower levels of the stomach enzymes needed to process the toxins in alcoholic beverages. Therefore, women are more prone to suffer brain atrophy, heart disease and liver damage. Unlike with men, even if a woman discontinues drinking, liver disease continues to progress and those who drink have an increased risk of breast cancer.

The concern is so widespread that in January an international group of public health experts convened by the World Health Organization’s regional office plans to ask governments worldwide to consider legislation to sharply curtail alcohol advertising. Meanwhile, the alcohol industry is expected to spend more than $2 billion on advertising this year.

It is time for women to become more discriminating consumers. Although alcohol advertisements may be clever or funny, there is nothing entertaining about liver disease or death. Women need to learn more about the dangers of alcohol consumption, then seriously consider their degree of personal use. Ultimately, it is their health and longevity that is on the line.

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