Coalition for the Prevention of
October 24, 1996
Mr. Daniel L. Jaffe
Dear Mr. Jaffe:
The Coalition for the Prevention of Alcohol Problems questions your recent public statements regarding the Association of National Advertisers' support for liquor advertising on television and radio. We are particularly concerned by your suggestion that Federal Communications Commission (FCC) action to protect children from broadcast liquor ads would be "ill-advised" and by your assertion that the First Amendment to the Constitution offers protection for alcohol ads that appeal to millions of young people.
Federal Trade Commission (FTC) authority to regulate national advertising presents no bar to FCC action to challenge broadcast liquor advertising. Several agencies share concurrent jurisdiction over advertising for alcoholic beverages. Those include the Federal Trade Commission; Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (BATF); and, in the context of broadcasting, the Federal Communications Commission. Your suggestion that the FCC lacks oversight authority to explore how unprecedented liquor advertising on television affects young people reflects a gross underestimation of that medium's ability to influence children and teens and a disturbing callousness to the role of alcohol as America's number-one youth drug problem. It also ignores broadcasters' statutory public interest responsibilities.
While we agree that restrictions on the commercial speech rights of liquor advertisers must comport with standards enunciated by the U.S. Supreme Court, we question whether the recent ruling in 44 Liquormart v. Rhode Island provides adequate guidance in this instance. That case about liquor price advertising did not address the issue of whether imagistic advertising for liquor products to large numbers of underage persons in the powerful broadcast media merits constitutional protection. Nor did it consider the responsibility to the public owed by broadcasters in return for the use of public airwaves.
Promoting the availability, familiarity, and use of liquor to audiences that include substantial numbers of young people, for whom the purchase, possession, or consumption of alcoholic beverages is illegal (and often dangerous), raises serious questions related to broadcasters' statutory public interest responsibilities. The Supreme Court did not consider those issues 44 Liquormart. We believe that the FCC can legitimately challenge and curtail broadcast liquor ads, without violating current constitutional principles in the commercial speech area.
We have often praised the voluntary industry ban on broadcast liquor advertising. It has served both the public and the industry well. We find it unfortunate that national advertisers and the advertising industry refuse to accept reasonable, popular, and time-tested limitations on advertising practices that pose serious risks for the children of America. We urge your organization to reconsider its support of broadcast liquor advertising and undertake voluntary activities to help remove that advertising from the public's airwaves.
George A. Hacker, Director