A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words Grant's Optics Betray Her Agenda By By Peter Livingston

I went downtown last week to enjoy a Bisons game. I would have enjoyed it better had they won, but I always enjoy a game at the ballpark. I consider it an opportunity to eat, a lot, and possibly catch part of a ball game. While downtown, I noticed something that bothered me. It was a metro rail train wrapped in a Coors Light advertisement. What bothered me is that it looked pretty shoddy. It looked like nothing like the Silver Bullet in the television ads. It looked more like a large sticker on somewhat dated public transportation. It also looked kind of dirty. I expect better from the NFTA.

It appears that I am not the only person who took notice. Erie County Legislators Betty Jean Grant and Timothy Hogues introduced a resolution to prohibit alcohol advertising on Metrorail trains. But not because the ads are visually unappealing. Reading the Buffalo News, I learned that Legislator Grant opposes the ads because they promote alcohol products to minority youth.

I appreciate Legislator Grant's statements in opposition to the advertising as geared toward minorities. The journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research demonstrates that moderate (i.e. - responsible) drinkers have lower mortality rates than abstainers. Heavy drinkers have higher mortality rates that both of the other groups. Interestingly, Christopher Sempos, professor in the Department of Preventative Medicine at the University at Buffalo, notes that this effect was not identified in African Americans. It is believed African Americans tend to drink less often, but in larger amounts, than other ethnic groups. This style of drinking, known as binge drinking, defeats the positive effects of moderate alcohol use. Given these findings, I certainly understand why Legislator Grant is concerned about promoting alcohol use to African Americans.

However, given her vocal concern, I am curious what other steps Legislator Grant has taken to discourage alcohol use in the African American community.

In 1980, Legislator Grant and her husband opened a family-owned deli, located at 1055 East Ferry Street in Buffalo. According to her website, it is one of the few African-American owned and operated stores in Buffalo. It is just over a half mile from Seneca High School, less than a half mile from Genessee Humboldt Junior High School and Build Academy and about a quarter of a mile from Public School 62.

I have not been to Grant's Variety Shoppe. However, by viewing the Streetview photo, I am able to learn a lot about the store. They appear to feature "Health & Beauty Aids." On the next line of the sign, I learn that one of the aids to health and beauty is "cigarettes."

Obviously, the Surgeon General has been misleading me for many years. It is noteworthy that African American men are 34% more likely than white American men to develop lung cancer. Smoking also contributes to heart disease and high blood pressure, which is disproportionately high in African Americans.

I also see that I can purchase lottery tickets at the store. It appears that at one point I could even buy "Lucky Lottery Oil." I could use some luck with the lottery. However, as with all forms of gambling, the lottery is designed to favor the house, not the player. A 2011 study indicates that African Americans are more likely experience gambling related problems than white Americans.

My next observation was even more surprising. On the left side of the window is a neon sign advertising "OE 800" - Olde English 800, a malt liquor with a higher alcohol content than beer. A few years ago, a group of 22 public interest groups involved in minority issues - including the National Black Alcoholism Council and the National Black Police Association - spoke out against malt liquor companies targeting African American and Hispanic consumers. They singled out Olde English 800. Malt liquor, frequently served in 40-ounce bottles, is often used by binge drinkers.

Legislator Grant has eloquently and passionately spoken out against advertising beer on NFTA trains, because the advertising targets minority populations. However, her own store, located in an area with predominately minority residents and near several schools, prominently advertises the lottery, cigarettes and alcohol. Her actions belie her words.

Is it proper to advertise beer on NFTA vehicles? It is not illegal. I think that preference should be given to non-alcohol related advertising. However, I also recognize it is a significant revenue source for an authority that seems to constantly demand more money. Their trains and buses are an important component of the transportation infrastructure, especially for those without access to an automobile. Less advertising revenue would have to be replaced by higher fares or elimination of routes, to which users object, or higher taxes, to which homeowners object.

Any constraints imposed upon NFTA advertising should be done so as part of a comprehensive plan, not as a knee-jerk reaction to a specific advertiser. Further, before our elected officials speak, they should be prepared to act. And their actions should be consistent with their words.

Otherwise, their words aren't worth the paper - or NFTA train - upon which they are printed.

Comments? Please email me at peter.r.livingston@gmail.com. I occasionally comment via Twitter @PRLivingston.

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