Saturday, May 5, 2007 | The major beer brewers respect only one culture — money.

For years, they have doggedly tried to wedge Mexican culture into the cold brew of their “Cinco de Mayo” promotions. This year promises to be no different. But you can bet, by May 6, they would have discarded their Latino fervor much as they would a spent lime husk at the bottom of a Corona bottle.

Just as the “conquistadors” did centuries ago, firms that make Budweiser, Miller Beer, Coors and, yes, even Corona are always looking for new worlds and markets to exploit. Unfortunately, Cinco de Mayo has become a gateway to one particularly lucrative segment — Latinos.

A few years ago, they began setting aside huge financial resources to ensure their products reach Latino hands. Miller Brewing Co. signed a $100-million advertising deal with Univision Communications, the largest deal ever for the Spanish-language broadcasting corporation. Meanwhile, brewers such as Anheuser-Busch and Molson Coors have created vice-presidential posts to head up their Latino marketing efforts.

They’ve taken these steps with no regard to the growing problems that alcohol is bringing to our communities, families, and particularly to our children.

One reason is that wine and hard liquor producers are siphoning off their market. In response they are looking for new customers.

Another reason is the sheer potential the Latino market represents. Latinos are the fastest growing segment of the U.S. population. This makes us a lucrative target for beer companies. Industry experts say Latinos are responsible for at least 11 percent of the U.S. beer industry volume and are considered more likely than African Americans or Asians to drink beer.

They are also targeting Latinos because our population is generally younger. Forty percent of Latinos are under the age of 21, compared to just 30 percent of the general population.

This youth translates into “market potential,” meaning that so-called “brand loyalty” purchased by advertising today can pay off for years to come. This requires aggressive marketing to young Latinos. And they are.

Targeting Youth

More young people are seeing alcohol ads today than ever before. Among all racial groups, youth exposure to alcohol ads on television jumped 48 percent from 2001 to 2005, according to Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth at Georgetown University (CAMY).

Alarmingly for Latinos, more alcohol advertising is being aimed at our youth than young people from other ethnic backgrounds.

In 2002, alcohol advertisers spent over $23 million to place ads on 12 of the 15 most popular television programs among Latino youth, according to CAMY. A year later, that figure had jumped to 14 of the 15 top shows, including the cartoon “The Simpsons.”

Alcohol ads are flourishing in other media as well. In 2004, Latino youth living in seven of the top 20 U.S. radio markets heard more alcohol advertisements per capita than all other youth in those markets. That year, they also saw 20 percent more alcohol ads in English-language magazines than all other racial groups.

Beer advertisements actually reach a larger percentage of underage Latinos than adults. In 2004, 85 percent of Latino youth, ages 12-to-20 saw those ads, compared to just 79 percent of those older than 21, and the only ones who could acquire their products legally.

This is no accident. Beer manufacturers understand the buying potential the Latino market represents and they want to exploit it at any cost.

Years ago, law makers saw the health threat posed by cigarette companies and banned their ads from television. It’s time we considered a similar broadcast ban for alcohol ads.

Stolen Holiday

Ironically, what most liquor companies and the general population fail to realize is that Cinco de Mayo represents a Mexican victory over a vast, oppressive power — French occupying army — in the Battle of Puebla in 1862.

Exploitation of this holiday comes at a time when alcohol is having a greater negative affect in the Latino community than on the general population.

Recent studies show that Latino youth are more likely to drink and get drunk at an earlier age than whites or African Americans. They are also more likely to binge drink.

These figures are especially disturbing given the fact that young people who begin drinking before age 15 are four times more likely to become alcoholics than those who wait until after they turn 21. Federal statistics from 1999 to 2004 show that alcohol played a role in nearly 50 percent of all Latino automobile fatalities.

This is “danger potential” not “market potential.”

Beer companies blame these statistics on individuals and “problem drinkers.” They tout “personal responsibility” of people who should not be drinking at all. They take no responsibility for themselves. They sell us wounds, then blame us for bleeding.

It’s time we stopped buying their lies, their products, and their money-hungry culture. Let’s show them our loyalty to our culture is stronger than our loyalty to their products. Let’s celebrate Cinco de Mayo our own way, con orgullo, with pride.

Our culture is not for sale.

Jovita Juarez, a prevention specialist with South Bay Community Services, is chair of the South Bay Cinco de Mayo con Orgullo para la Familia Campaign. Send a letter to the editor.

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