WASHINGTON: Frank Coleman knew right away that the numbers were wrong. Late on Friday, February 22, Coleman received word that the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) would hold a potentially disastrous press conference that Tuesday. Top of the agenda was a study claiming that 25% of the alcohol sold in America was consumed by "children."But Coleman, SVP at the Distilled Spirits Council (DSC), said, "The data tracking we've done has shown that underage drinking has declined at least 29% in the last five years."
That 25% statistic could have thrown cold water not just on that progress, but on all the DSC's public policy battles, including its current fight against an increase on alcohol taxes.
So that weekend, Coleman brought together senior PR reps from the major liquor manufacturers, and had the DSC's economists search the study's methodology for errors.
By Monday evening, they'd found the mistake: The percentage of 12- to 20-year-olds in the study was far greater than it is in the actual population.
But the CASA had never adjusted the numbers, resulting in a statistic that was inflated by over 100%.
Coleman and his staff began their own media blitz, and compelled the government agency that compiled the data to declare the number closer to 11%. They held their own press conference in the room next door to the CASA's, and by day's end, the CASA issued a clarification.
Wednesday brought retractions from most outlets, and outraged editorials from others. "We couldn't let that number stand,
Coleman sighed, "or the industry would have been tattooed with it for decades.