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George Hacker of CSPI: Can Mr. Hacker be Trusted?

by David J. Hanson, Ph.D.

Lawyer George A. Hacker heads the Alcohol Policies Project of the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI). In pursuing its temperance-oriented agenda, Mr. Hacker appears to play fast and loose with the facts. Some of Hacker's assertions are questionable, some are deceptive, and some are clearly false.

For Example

Possible, but Unlikely

Consider, for example, George Hacker's statement on CNN Crossfire:

Question: Can I ask you a personal question for minute, please?

Hacker: You may.

Question: Were you an underaged drinker?

Hacker: Well...

(Laughter)

Normally, I'd take the Fifth on that. But in my day, the drinking age in New York was 18.

Question: Were you underage? A drinker?

Hacker: I might have slipped once or twice, but I never swallowed.

Question: See, and you turned out OK...

Hacker: I never swallowed. 1

Does George Hacker really expect us to believe this? Does he think we're stupid or just gullible? Some Washington lawyers insulated inside the Beltway don't understand the good sense of the American public.

Misleading

Mr. Hacker has asserted that alcohol use and binge drinking are alarmingly high and that "the latest National Household Survey data suggest that alcohol use has even increased. "It hasn't, although he correctly reports that "previous month alcohol use" among 12-to 17-year olds has increased. 2 

That much is true, but look more closely. According to the National Household Survey, the rate to which Hacker refers fell from 50% in 1979 down to 19% in 1998. It continued to drop to only 16% in 2000 (less than 1/3 the earlier rate). National Household Survey Graph Then it increased from 16 to 17% and Hacker sounded his alarm and called for massive federal expenditures to halt the increase. 3

George Hacker didn't mention that "previous month heavy use" continued to drop in the 12- to 17 age group, according to the federally sponsored National Household Survey. And Hacker didn't mention that the National Institute on Drug Abuse's National Monitoring the Future Study found that "previous month use" dropped among 8th graders, 10th graders and 12th graders. 4

Hacker apparently didn't think it worth mentioning that the federally-funded PRIDE Survey found the proportion of students in grades six through 12 who reported drinking beer in the past year was at the lowest level in the 15 years that the survey has been conducted. 5

George Hacker only reported the one inconsistent statistic that supported his agenda. 6 But this shouldn't be surprising. This is the same George Hacker who claimed on national television that while he may have sipped alcohol a couple of times while underage, he never swallowed.

Clearly False

"We never suggested that industry intends to market to underage dirnkers" insisted George Hacker in a published report. 7 

But two months earlier on CNN's Crossfire, Hacker insisted, "The point is that in this age of corporate greed and corporate irresponsibility, you know, we have an industry here that is going after kids. The reason they go after underage kids is because that's where their new market is." 8

A year earlier, in CSPI on Youth-Targeted Booze Ads, he asserted that "the alcohol companies target teens with their ad campaigns" and that their advertising practices "intend to corral illegal booze consumers." 9

"Hacker argues in favor of the whole panoply of neo-prohibitionist restrictions on alcohol."

Richard Berman, attorney13

About a year before that, in Alcohol Marketers Assailed for Targeting Kids during Super Bowl, Mr. Hacker insisted that "Our children are at risk, and it makes no sense for us to allow alcohol marketers to increase the pressure on them to drink." 10

In the same year, George Hacker's Alcohol Policies Project at CSPI published a document asserting that "Eight in ten (81%) of teens and 57% of adults agree that beer and liquor companies target underage drinkers or teenagers with their ads," that both teens and adults "agree" that companies try to lure young people into trying "alcopops," and ten other similar assertions that alcohol marketers "target" or otherwise intend to market to underage drinkers. 11

And a quarter-century earlier, in The Booze Merchants, George Hacker argued that the alcohol industry targets underage drinkers. 12

The evidence is clear and overwhelming. So how can George Hacker say that "We never suggested that industry intends to market to underage drinkers"? He can't, and the written record proves it.

Given his track record, it might be wise to be very cautious before accepting statements by George Hacker as accurate.

 

References
  • 1. CNN.com/Transcripts. CNN Crossfire (Aired July 16, 2002 - 19:00 ET). www.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/0207/16/cf.oo.html
  • 2. Hacker, George A., and Miller, K. Written Testimony of George A. Hacker and Kimberly Miller, Manager of Federal Relations, Alcohol Policies Project, Center for Science in the Public Interest to the Committee on Developing a Strategy to Prevent and Reduce Underage Drinking. National Academy of Sciences Board on Children, Youth and Families. November 18, 2002.
  • 3. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Results From the 2001 National Household Survey on Drug Abuse: Volume II: Technical Appendices and Selected Tables. Rockville, Maryland: Office of Applied Statistics, NHSDA series H-18, Department of Health and Human Services publication #SMA 02-3759, 2002.
  • 4. Johnston, L. D., O'Malley, P. M., and Bachman, J. G. Monitoring the Future National Survey Results on Drug Use, 1975-2001. Volume I: Secondary School Students. (National Institute on Health publication no. 02-5106) Bethesda, Maryland: National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2002.
  • 5. PRIDE Survey, 2002. (www.pridesurveys.com)
  • 6. For more on deception, see, Alcohol Use and Abuse: How to "Lie" with Statistics (http://www2.potsdam.edu/alcohol/Controversies/1070552005.html)
  • 7. Goetz, D. Liquor industry gets stricter on advertising. Courier-Journal (Louisville, KY), 9-10-03.
  • 8. Are liquor companies targeting teen? Consumer advocates say fruity malt beverages known as "alcopops" are being marketed to millions of teen-agers in television ads, while liquor industry representatives say such complaints have no merit. CNN.com/Transcripts of George Hacker's appearnace on "In the Crossfire" program aired July 17, 2002 (http://archives.cnn.com/2002/ALLPOLITICS/07/17/cf.crossfire/).
  • 9. Center for Science in the Public Interest Alcohol Policies Project. CSPI on Youth-Targeted Booze Ads: Statement of CSPI Alcohol Policies Project Director George Hacker. Washington, DC: Center for Science in the Public Interest press release, 9-24-02 (www.cspinet.org/booze/youth_ads.html).
  • 10. Center for Science in the Public Interest Alcohol Policies Project. Alcohol Marketers Assailed for Targeting Kids During Super Bowl: President Urged to Challenge Beer and Liquor Ads. Washington, DC: Center for Science in the Public Interest press release, 1-25-01.
  • 11. Center for Science in the Public Interest What Teens and Adults Say about "Alcopops." Washington, DC: Center for Science in the Public Interest Alcohol Policies Project, (summary), 2001.
  • 12. Jacobson, Michael, Atkins, Robert, and Hacker, George. The Booze Merchants. Washington, DC: The Center for Science in the Public Interest, 1983.
  • 13. Berman, R. George Hacker. (www.consumerfreedom.org).
  • 14. Thalman, J. Alcohol is not big draw for games. Deseret News, 6-14-01.
  • 15. Massing, M. Strong stuff. New York Times Magazine, 3-22-98.