Statement of George Hacker
Director, Alcohol Policies Project
Center for Science in the Public Interest
In support of the Voluntary Alcohol Advertising Standards for Children Act

 

April 10, 1997

Center for Science in the Public Interest is pleased to join Representative Joseph Kennedy's efforts to protect children from broadcast appeals to drink alcoholic beverages. Today, kids are bombarded by more than $700 million in beer, wine, and liquor ads on radio and television.

Those ads encourage them to drink, and they bolster unacceptable levels of alcohol consumption among young people and the problems that go with it. Alcohol is the drug of choice for young people in this country, and a major factor in the three leading causes of death for persons 15-24, including unintentional injuries, homicides and suicides. Alcohol is a deadly drug in children's hands. Liquor, because of its concentration, presents special dangers.

Representative Kennedy's "Voluntary Alcohol Advertising Standards for Children Act" reinforces broadcasters' responsibilities to the public. It would help take our children out of the cross hairs of beer and liquor marketers. By promoting voluntary action by broadcasters, the bill places the responsibility where it belongs, with businesses that are licensed to serve the public interest.

Beer and liquor companies betray the public's trust when they advertise to underage audiences. They claim it doesn't happen, but just look at the Budweiser frogs or the Coors' "Tap the Rockies" campaigns, or Seagram's dogs and Hiram Walker's Kahlua Mudslide; or the frequency and placement of beer ads on youth-oriented MTV. Those industries say they've been responsible. They point to their industries' voluntary codes of advertising practice as evidence of their social conscience and restraint.

Those codes, however, explicitly endorse advertising to audiences in which one of every two persons is underage. They sanction advertising to underage persons, so long as the young are not the primary intended targets. Beer and liquor industry voluntary codes are weak, vague, and unenforceable. When's the last time that a company got even a slap on the wrist for brazenly flouting them?

It took massive bad publicity and the imminent threat of a Federal Trade Commission investigation before Anheuser-Busch pulled its ads from youth-oriented MTV last January. Why did it take 10 years since "age-21" became the law of the land for the world's largest brewer to stop competing for attention on MTV with ads for pimple control products and sports equipment?

The beer and liquor industry voluntary codes have failed miserably to protect our children. They have been useful, however, to give the appearance of responsibility.

We don't expect new broadcast standards for alcohol advertising to be adopted overnight. While we're waiting, there is something that can be done. We call upon the liquor industry to go back to the voluntary ban. Be good corporate citizens and don't add to the risks our children already face.

Brewers also should demonstrate utmost caution when it comes to advertising that appeals to children. We urge them to adopt a voluntary moratorium on all broadcast and other advertising that reaches large numbers of teens and children.

Stop targeting our kids.

[Press Release on Moratorium]