Distilled Spirits Council In

1974, the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, Inc. (DISCUS) was formed by the merger of three organizations—the industrywide Licensed Beverage Industries, Inc. (LBI), the Distilled Spirits Institute (DSI), and the Bourbon Institute. DISCUS, headquartered in Washington, DC, is supported by the distilled spirits producers, representing 90 percent of the liquor sold in the United States. In all major respects DISCUS is a trade association representing producers and marketers of distilled spirits sold in the United States.

DISCUS's primary functions are to maintain legislative relations with state and federal governments (lobbying); to conduct or support economic and statistical research; to promote export and standards of identity for American-made liquors; to maintain a voluntary code of ADVERTISING practices; and to represent the distilling industry on social issues of concern, such as teenage drinking, Drunk Driving, and other forms of ALCOHOL abuse. State government relations activities are conducted by DISCUS regional representatives.

As a trade association, DISCUS seeks to inform the public about the importance of distilled spirits to the U.S. economy. By 1999, the distilled spirits industry generated $95 billion in U.S. economic activity annually and over 1.3 million people were employed in the United States through the manufacture, distribution, and sale of distilled spirits. Jobs within the distilled spirits industry account for more than $28 billion in U.S. wages.

As had its predecessor LBI, DISCUS has supported programs of alcohol abuse PREVENTION and research conducted by independent groups and experts in education, traffic safety, and alcoholism. These projects have included the Grand Rapids, Michigan, study of drunk driving (1961-1965) and the research led by Harburg and Gomburg (1978-1984) on how drinking may affect the offspring of different types of drinkers.

In addition to supporting the Harvard Medical School course for DIAGNOSIS and TREATMENT of alcoholism, now adopted by eighty medical schools, DISCUS has provided extensive support to national organizations in the alcoholism field since 1970. Its approach is based on the knowledge that alcoholism is an identifiable illness and can respond to intervention and treatment.

In 1978, DISCUS endorsed the ''responsible decisions on alcohol'' approach developed by the Education Commission of the States, and in 1982, it supported the National Association of State Boards of Education in its nationwide project based on this concept (which includes abstinence). In 1980, DISCUS cooperated with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and other sponsors in supporting the Friends of the Family parenting education program.

In 1979, DISCUS became a charter member of the Licensed Beverage Information Council (LBIC), an industrywide consortium (beer, wine, and spirits at the producer, wholesaler, and retailer levels), whose membership includes nine other associations. LBIC has supported varied prevention groups and specialists in conducting medical and public education programs devoted to alcoholism as a treatable illness; FETAL ALCOHOL SYNDROME (FAS); teenage drinking; and drunk driving. The consortium has conducted the nationwide Friends Don't Let Friends Drive Drunk campaign.

DISCUS member companies are the principal supporters of the Century Council, a nonprofit organization dedicated to reducing alcohol abuse across the United States. Through public/private partnerships, Century Council investigates, funds, and implements innovative approaches to address the problems of drunk driving and underage drinking.

In 1994, DISCUS developed and initiated the Drunk Driving Prevention Act (DDPA), model legislation that strengthens drunk driving laws. Its provisions, many of which are being considered and adopted by state legislatures around the country, include mandatory alcohol and drug education for drivers; a ban of open containers in motor vehicles; Administrative License Revocation (ALR) authorizing a police officer to confiscate the license of any driver who either fails a chemical test or refuses to submit to it; zero tolerance for drivers under age 21; mandatory license revocation for persons under age 21 who attempt to purchase, consume, or misrepresent their age for the purpose of buying or consuming beverage alcohol; and mandatory alcohol and drug testing in fatal crashes.

DISCUS has also developed BACCHUS (Boosting Alcohol Consciousness Concerning Health of University Students). BACCHUS is a college-based peer education program to reduce alcohol abuse. Its educational materials include Open Doors, a Guide to Alcohol and Residence Life for Resident Administrators; Community College Guide to Peer Education; Gamma Guide (Greeks Advocating Mature Management of Alcohol); Certified Peer Educator Training Program; and Student Athletes as Peer Educators.

DISCUS has discouraged drinking by underage youth; encouraged adults who choose to drink to do so responsibly; and emphasized significant distinctions between normal social drinking and alcohol abuse.

The organization's economic research includes annual compilations of ''apparent consumption ' data (i.e., distilled spirits entering channels of trade) and an assessment of the liquor industry's contributions to the economy. Total U.S. distilled spirits consumption has declined in recent years, a fact noted by DISCUS as one of the many refutations of the ''control of alcohol availability'' hypothesis.

The DISCUS Code of Good Practice provides for self-regulation of advertising practices by distillers. An unusually high degree of compliance has been achieved even with nonmembers. The code was applied to radio in 1936, when that was a major medium; it has voluntarily excluded the use of television as an advertising medium by distillers since 1947. Contrary to a widely held impression, spirits advertising on television is not prohibited by law.

Distilled spirits have been the most heavily taxed consumer commodity in the United States. DISCUS and its predecessors have claimed over the years that such taxes are discriminatory and excessive, and they do not reduce chronic alcohol-abuse problems. DISCUS has consistently argued that the tax structure imposed on distilled spirits is unjust because the government taxes spirits at a higher rate than beer and wine. It contends that standard servings of beer, wine, and distilled spirits contain the same amount of alcohol, yet the federal tax rate on distilled spirits is almost three times the rate on wine and over two times the rate on beer.

In 1999, DISCUS continued to lobby Congress for a reduction in excise taxes. DISCUS pointed out that more than half of the price that consumers spend on a typical bottle of distilled spirits is taxes. Federal, state, and local governments receive more than $18 billion per year in tax revenue from the beverage alcohol industry and tax revenues from the distilled spirits industry alone account for more than $7.5 billion. DISCUS pointed out that federal, state and local governments combined realize fourteen times more in spirits tax revenues than the distillers make in profits. However, Congress has remained unresponsive to the attempt by DISCUS to reduce excise taxes.

As a long-standing policy, DISCUS and its members do not encourage people to start drinking or to drink too much. DISCUS's review of the research literature indicates that there is no scientific evidence that brand advertising either influences or shapes those behaviors. The marketing purpose of product advertising is to build consumer acceptance of specific brands, according to DISCUS. In the late 1990s, DISCUS began publicizing the health benefits of alcohol consumption. It noted a growing body of scientific evidence reporting that moderate beverage alcohol consumption may reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, the leading cause of death in the United States. This potential benefit is equally available from moderate consumption of any form of beverage alcohol— distilled spirits, beer, or wine. However, DISCUS does not promote the use of alcohol consumption for health reasons.

(SEE ALSO: Advertising and the Alcohol Industry; Alcohol: History of Drinking; Legal Regulation of Drugs and Alcohol; Minimum Drinking Age Laws; Prevention; Social Costs of Alcohol and Drug Abuse; Tax Laws and Alcohol)


Borkenstein, R. F. (1965). The role of the drinking driver in traffic accidents. Project of the Department of Police Administration, Indiana University, initiated November 10, 1961. Distilled Spirits Council of the United States (DISCUS) (2000). www.discus.health.org/. HARBURG, E., & GOMBERG, E. (1984). Alcohol use/abstinence among men and women in a small town setting. Project of the University of Michigan, initiated November 1, 1978.

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