LSU Death Highlights Need to Fight Bar Ads That Boost Binge Drinking

CSPI's New Action Guide Targets High-Risk Bar Promotions That Prey Upon College Students

The recent tragic death of a Louisiana State University student from apparent alcohol poisoning highlights the need to curb binge drinking at bars that prey on students in college communities. Too many of those bars solicit student business with brazen advertising promises of certain intoxication.

"Ladies drink free." "Nickel pitchers 'til ten o'clock." "Bladder Bust." Those are some of the college newspaper come-ons that lure students to neighborhood bars and provide incentives and encouragement for heavy and abusive drinking. According to a recent survey, such advertising in many college newspapers has increased by more than half over the past decade, stymying college and community efforts to reduce binge drinking.

Now those communities have a how-to guide on fighting back. Last Call for High-Risk Bar Promotions That Target College Students: A Community Action Guide, published by the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), gives a practical step-by-step battle plan.

"This guide," said George Hacker, director of CSPI's Alcohol Policies Project, "is designed to help college administrators, community activists, law enforcement and local government officials reduce the incidence of late-night noise, vandalism, drunken brawls, assaults, property damage and drinking and driving associated with heavy drinking. It may also help to avoid alcohol-poisoning tragedies in the future."

Last Call provides a broad range of strategies to help community leaders confront irresponsible bar promotions and create safer, healthier communities. It encourages advocates to choose the methods that best fit their unique situations. Some of the options described in the guide include inviting bar owners to join a responsible hospitality council, working for legislation that prohibits drink specials, and calling for enhanced enforcement of laws against serving intoxicated and underage patrons.

The guide's blueprint for aggressively engaging the alcohol industry "is provocative, realistic, and likely to produce results," said Robert Chapman, Alcohol and Other Drug Program Coordinator at LaSalle University (Philadelphia, PA).

A CSPI survey of 75 college newspapers, described in Last Call, found that advertising for local bars has increased by more than half over the past decade. The survey found that one-third of the bar ads promote high-risk heavy drinking, with pitches such as:

  • penny and nickel drink nights;
  • all-you-can-drink specials;
  • ladies' nights; and
  • "crawls" with progressive specials at several different bars.

When a bar distributes fliers for a Wednesday-night 'Bladder Buster' (where drinks stay cheap until someone goes to the bathroom) under the doors in a first-year residence hall, it's an invitation to get drunk," said Last Call co-author Debra Erenberg of CSPI's Alcohol Policies Project.

"Such widespread emphasis on heavy drinking is a perversion of the college experience, which should be about learning and personal growth. The strategies described in Last Call can help foster a campus environment where students focus on learning, rather than drinking."

Preparation of Last Call was assisted by grants from The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation of Princeton, NJ, and the S.H. Cowell Foundation of San Francisco, CA. CSPI will provide the guide to hundreds of college campuses and organizations concerned about alcohol problems. Individual copies of the 61-page guide are available from CSPI for $10 by writing to CSPI-Alcohol Policies, 1220 L St., NW, Suite 300, Washington, DC 20005.

CSPI is a nonprofit health-advocacy organization that focuses on alcoholic-beverage problems, nutrition, and food safety. It is based in Washington, D.C., and is supported largely by more than one million subscribers to its Nutrition Action Healthletter and foundation grants. It does not accept industry or government funding. CSPI led efforts to win passage of the law requiring warning labels on alcoholic beverages and has publicized the nutritional content of many popular restaurant foods.

August 29, 1997