American Medical Association
The American Medical Association (AMA) is an association of physicians that seeks “to promote the art and science of medicine and the betterment of public health.” The organization began as an association representing “the nation’s doctors,” but actual physician membership rates have sharply declined in recent decades. Estimated membership rates vary from 17-29 percent of all doctors, a significant drop from its highest rate of 90 percent membership.
Part of the decline has been attributed to AMA’s turn as an increasingly political and activist organization. The group’s Office of Alcohol and Other Drug Abuse now lobbies for increased alcohol taxes, bans on alcoholic beverage advertising, and other policies aimed at reducing overall consumption of alcohol.
AMA has long been an opponent of alcohol–in fact the organization was a supporter of Prohibition. It’s members passed a resolution stating: “The American Medical Association opposes the use of alcohol as a beverage; and be it further Resolved, that the use of alcohol as a therapeutic agent should be discouraged.”
While other public health researchers and physicians have found that moderate consumption of alcohol is associated with some health benefits, the AMA continues to promote total abstinence and continues to label alcohol as a “drug.”
Along these lines, the AMA strongly supports a complete ban on alcohol advertisements, including ads only seen by adults. Former AMA president Dr. Edward Hill says that “What marketing does is create an atmosphere of normality. Ads say, ‘It is normal to drink,’ and we know where underage drinkers are exposed to more advertising, there is greater alcohol consumption.”
To bolster its anti-alcohol advertising position, the AMA argues that a ban will prevent young people from seeing ads. The AMA claims that young people will see on average 100,000 beer commercials before they reach the age of 18. Though this figure was repeated by anti-alcohol activists and even appeared in publications such as The New York Times, despite the fact that no study exists to confirm that figure. If AMA’s claim were true, young people would have to see approximately 17 ads a day over a 15-year period.
The 2003 study, “Alcohol Advertising in Magazines and Adolescent Readership” in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) argued that alcohol advertisements were directly targeted at adolescents. However, subsequent examinations of JAMA’s data revealed several methodological deficiencies. A 2005 article in Regulation analyzed JAMA’s data and found that“JAMA wrongly concluded that beer and spirits producers “targeted” adolescent readers through magazine placements.”
A 2004 AMA press release warned that “alco-pops” or sugar-sweetened alcoholic beverages were being primarily marketed to teenage girls. However, the Federal Trade Commission studied alcohol marketing practices and in a report to Congress stated that there is no evidence that underage drinkers are targeted with alcoholic advertisements.
AMA has lost a significant amount of credibility in recent years. The American Medical Association has offered its “seal of approval” to various products and drugs despite the fact that the organization has no capacity to test such drugs. Instead, its doctors reaped advertising fees from these products to feature products in AMA publications. The former editor of the organization’s Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) was indicted on federal racketeering charges for his activities. Recently, AMA pulled out of an endorsement contract with Sunbeam Corp. after its members argued the agreement would tarnish the association’s image. The deal would have given Sunbeam the AMA’s seal of approval on everything from blood pressure monitors to humidifiers in exchange for product royalties even though the AMA had no plans to test the products.