How many times have we all heard reports that drinking wine is good for the heart? This is just one example of a major campaign by the alcohol industry to increase the popularity and the resulting sales of alcohol in this country. But how is it that while these types of campaigns receive significant media exposure, alcohol abuse, one of the leading causes of death not only through direct exposure but also through related crimes involving rape, assault, murder and drunk driving, is relatively ignored?

According to The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, not too many people realize that alcohol contributes to 100,000 deaths annually, making it the third leading cause of preventable mortality in the U.S. More than 7 percent of the population ages 18 years and older nearly 13.8 million Americans have problems with drinking, including 8.1 million people who are alcoholics. And those are just the people who have "problems," which doesn't include those of you who get dead drunk on a Friday night and run down the streets screaming and banging on people's doors in the middle of the night.

Now compare the effects of smoking, which receives a great deal of concern and attention from lawmakers and the media alike, to those of alcohol abuse. According to the American Cancer Society, 46 million people in the U.S. smoke, and more than 400,000 deaths each year are related to smoking. Almost half of all smokers between the ages of 35 and 69 die prematurely. And we all know from the Surgeon General's warning on cigarette packs and television commercials, that smoking can cause such health problems as strokes, emphysema, lung cancer or gum cancer, to name just a few.

But the point is that as a culture, we are acutely aware of the harmful effects of smoking. The type of information that I described above has been drilled into our heads since grade school. Smoking is illegal in many public places all over the country, such as in restaurants, bars and airplanes. California has been particularly restrictive in its laws of public cigarette use in order to lower the percentage of health problems related to second-hand smoke.

Furthermore, a great deal of progress has been made in reducing cigarette use through anti-smoking media campaigns. There are so many ads on television today that make this point, such as the series of dramatic black-and-white commercials of a woman battling the effects of years of smoking. Seeing her struggle to speak as she presses her finger over the hole in her neck is intended to make viewers realize what could happen to them if they smoke too.

While anti-smoking campaigns have received significant airtime, alcohol abuse is completely disregarded, even though its effects are equally dangerous, if not more so, and its use is far more widespread. While smoking only significantly harms the actual smokers and those immediately around them, alcohol abuse can kill any innocent person, even someone who doesn't have contact with a single person that drinks. Did you know that 38 percent of all traffic fatalities, which happens to be the leading cause of accidental death, are alcohol-related? This is according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in 1999. Alcoholics are also nearly 5 times more likely than others to die in motor vehicle crashes.

Another unknown fact is that, according to the Bureau of Justice, almost four in 10 violent crimes involve alcohol, as do four in 10 fatal automobile accidents. And about four in 10 criminal offenders report that they were using alcohol at the time of their offense. Each year 183,000 (37 percent) rapes and sexual assaults involve alcohol use by the offender, as do just over 197,000 (15 percent) of robberies, about 661,000 (27 percent) aggravated assaults and nearly 1.7 million (25 percent) simple assaults.

So even though you personally choose not to drink, you could die any day at the hands of a drunk person, through rape, murder, robbery or most likely through a car accident. In the case of drunk driving though, I must admit that there are countless commercials on television that show the individual lives that have been taken by drunk drivers. Speaking of commercials, the way in which alcohol use is promoted on TV is completely despicable. The Budweiser beer ads have helped to popularize beer to the extent that little kids, grandmothers, and even my own parents enthusiastically quip, "WASSSSAAAP!" The guys from the original commercial have become celebrities and have appeared on shows like "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno" to flaunt their signature remark.

Nobody seems to realize that Budweiser is on the winning end of such successful advertisements, which only encourage further alcohol use in our society. Images that link alcohol use with popularity and physical attractiveness, and with desirable outcomes such as success, relaxation, romance and adventure are partly to blame for the prevalent practice of alcohol consumption in our society. You might be thinking, lighten up, the singing Budweiser frogs are cute, and though there might be a problem in our country with alcohol in regards to drunk driving and related crimes, the path of destruction ends there.

Actually, that path takes many more twists and turns. First of all, there are numerous cases reported yearly of spousal and child abuse involving alcohol. Secondly, in colleges and universities where the use of alcohol is quite widespread the chance of a rape occurring is much higher. That doesn't quite make me feel very secure about walking around campus on a Friday night. And why are there so many unwanted teen pregnancies every year? Take a guess. Did I forget to mention the numerous diseases that are linked to alcohol abuse over a longer time period, such as liver disease, cardiovascular diseases (cardiomyopathy, hypertension, arrhythmias, and stroke), infectious diseases (respiratory infections, pneumonia, and tuberculosis), and increased risk of cancer?

After reading about the impact alcohol abuse has on our society as compared to smoking, how is it possible that while the government tries so persistently to curb the frequency of smoking through strict cigarette usage laws in various states, criticism of tobacco companies' greed and deceitful marketing practices, anti-smoking campaigns, and a Surgeon General's warning plastered on every manufactured cigarette pack, alcohol abuse slips by unquestioned and untouched? Alcohol is as addictive, as harmful, and as widely used as cigarettes are, and therefore deserves an equal amount of criticism from the media, academic institutions, the government, families and individuals that are affected by it every day. As long as there is a drunk driver out there, the health and well-being of each one of our family members, our friends and ourselves is at risk.

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