What Liquor Brand Is Likeliest To Land You In The ER?

By Dirk Hanson 11/07/11

It's not Skyy or Absolut. But teenaged drinkers love it to death.

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Hard liquor leads the way. Photo via

It's not surprising that most emergency room visits in the United States involve alcohol or drugs. But what brand of alcohol sends the most people to the ambulance? Vodka. Specifically Smirnoff. According to a recent survey of Baltimore hospitals, many of the patients who end up in the emergency room due to alcohol-related injuries, car crashes, or domestic violence  had ingested the Russian-made vodka up to six hours earlier. The second most deadly category was brandy and cognac, followed by gin brands like Gilbey's, Beefeaters and Tanqueray. David Jernigan, director of the Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, which conducted the study, said that nearly one third of all injury-related visits to emergency departments involved booze. While hard liquors like vodka represent about one-third of the total alcohol market, they were implicated in an astonishing 70% of booze-related ER visits. Brandy and gin together accounted for 20% of the ER visits, well above the weight of their small market share. Malt beverages like Steel Reserve and Bud Ice—popular brands with African Americans, who made up a majority of the patients in the study—were favored by 27% of those surveyed. Wine drinkers rarely end up in the emergency room in Baltimore. The report was presented at the American Public Health Association’s annual meeting in Washington, DC.

Ominously, Jernigan also found that “the most commonly chosen favorite [brand] among underage females was Smirnoff… overall the most popular brand of alcohol for adolescent drinkers surveyed.” Vodka makes up the majority of sales in the hard liquor market, perhaps partly because it's less detectable on drinkers' breath—which matters to teens. And the fact that brandy and gin, not beer and wine, were the next largest categories also bolsters the notion that marketing strong drinks to teenagers works: “Youth exposure to alcohol advertising, particularly on television, has grown by leaps and bounds,” Jernigan said. In an earlier study, 42% of teenage drinkers preferred a beer brand and just 3% went for a name-brand wine. 53% favored a distilled spirit.

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Dirk Hanson, MA, is a freelance science writer and the author of The Chemical Carousel: What Science Tells Us About Beating Addiction. He is also the author of The New Alchemists: Silicon Valley and the Microelectronics Revolution. He has worked as a business and science reporter for numerous magazines and trade publications including Wired, Scientific American, The Dana Foundation and more. He currently edits the Addiction Inbox blog. Email: [email protected]