Statement of Congressman Joseph P. Kennedy II on the Introduction of the "Voluntary Alcohol Advertising Standards for Children Act"
April 10, 1997

This Bud's for you ... It's Miller Time ... Tap into the Rockies ... I love you Man ... these phrases have become familiar sounds in the living rooms of homes across the country. Soon, you will also be able to recall slogans for Seagram's Crown Royal whiskey and Hiram Walker's Kahlua liqueur, and a host of other spirits. In too many cases, it is children that are influenced by such ads -- remembering and reciting these jingles, leading many to their first drink of alcohol in hopes of imitating the athletic, academic, or social success by being sold to them over the airwaves.

The Wall Street Journal and Ad Age reported on the prevalence of alcohol advertising on television stations and during programming that have large youth audiences. For example, beer ads were shown to run frequently on MTV, a rock music station that is popular with kids. So the message to kids is to sit down with a brew to watch Beavis and Butt-Head?

Alcohol use and abuse among our children is on the rise. Alcohol-related deaths are the number one killer of people under the age of twenty-four -- killing more than 100,000 people each year, five times as many as the death toll from illicit drugs. There are approximately 18 million alcoholics or problem drinkers in our country, 4 million of whom are minors.

We spend $15 billion a year fighting the war on drugs in this country. Yet alcohol, America's number one drug, is promoted by billions of dollars in slick ad campaigns that tell kids if they want to be the first down the mountain, or get a good-looking date, or win the bicycle race, all they need to do is drink a beer, a wine cooler, or a shot of whiskey.

For nearly fifty years the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States (DISCUS) had the right idea. As model corporate citizens, they voluntarily agreed not to advertise their product on television.

However, by ending their voluntary industry ban last November, they made a decision to lower the bar at a time when it needs to be raised.

The hard liquor industry had a legitimate argument that they were at a competitive disadvantage under their old code because the beer and wine industries advertise aggressively. But they took the wrong direction in an effort to even the playing field. We want fewer alcohol advertisements on television, not more.

I have in the past, and will again, introduce legislation which places specific restrictions on all alcohol advertising (beer, wine, and distilled spirits) -- particularly where alcohol products are being marketed to young audiences. These bills, the Just Say No Act and the Comprehensive Alcohol Abuse Prevention Act, prescribe specific restrictions with which I feel the alcoholic beverage industry should comply.

However, today we are embarking on a new, voluntary approach to solving this problem -- not to be confused, though, as abandoning old strategies. We are convinced that television broadcasters, under their public interest obligations, should be expected to add their voices to this important debate by developing a voluntary code of conduct for alcohol advertising that will limit the exposure of such ads to children.

Some broadcasters have taken the first step. When the hard liquor industry abandoned its voluntary pledge not to advertise on television, all of the major network stations publicly stated that they would not accept their ads. Yet viewing audiences have been baptized with hard liquor ads around the country because network affiliates have agreed to air them. More can and should be done about all televised alcohol advertising that targets young audiences.

The legislation that I will introduce with my colleagues today, the "Voluntary Alcohol Advertising Standards for Children Act," is a tool that will bring to bear a new benchmark for responsible advertising of beer, wine, and distilled spirits. Under this legislation, an anti-trust exemption is established so that television broadcasters can come together to devise the new code of "kid- friendly" standards.

While the legislation does not prescribe or mandate what the final code should look like, it does lay out five general guidelines for consideration:

  • Content - Alcoholic beverage companies often market their products by using sex, fantasy, sports figures, cartoons, and fast music. Advertisements using such content clearly have a strong market appeal to youthful audiences.
  • Frequency - Families should be able to turn on their televisions without being overwhelmed with alcohol advertising campaigns. Alcohol ads should not be airing in homes at a rate that surpasses advertisements of other products.
  • Timing - Children are less likely to be watching TV late at night. Alcohol advertisements should not be airing during prime time viewing hours or hours when children are likely to be a significant portion of the overall viewing audience.
  • Program Placement - What television shows are sandwiched in between alcohol advertisements? "The X-Files" ? Early Saturday sporting events? Alcohol ads should not be aired immediately preceding, during, or directly following television programming that has a significant youth audience.
  • Balanced Messages - Some deliberation should be given to the issue of balancing advertisements promoting alcohol consumption with public information messages about the risks of alcohol use by minors.

This bill would give the broadcasters one year to develop their code. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is required to approve the code before it is implemented, seeking public comment. If after one year, the broadcasters fail to develop their own standards, the FCC is given the authority to impose their own code, using the same five guidelines.

Any FCC-imposed code must be developed in a partnership with an advisory committee composed of parents, broadcasters, public interest groups, and other interested individuals from the private sector. The final, approved code would be enforced as a regulation by the FCC, punishable by monetary penalties.

This is largely a "hands-off" governmental approach. Regulators do not get involved in the creation of this code unless broadcasters abandon their responsibility to do so.

Alcohol is not a legal product for consumption by minors and therefore should not be advertised in a manner, place, or time where children are likely to be influenced. This legislation gives concerned parents and the public a voice in protecting their children from negative influences. And this bill gives broadcasters the latitude to voluntarily develop alcohol advertising standards which they believe will protect children under their public interest obligations. All would be served well by passage of this legislation.

[George Hacker's Statement] [Press Release on Rep. Kennedy's Bill]