After dropping its 50-year voluntary ban on broadcast advertising in 1996, the liquor industry has greatly expanded its ad presence on cable and independent broadcast stations and has intensified pressure to get liquor ads on network television. Those lobbying efforts succeeded in mid-December, 2001, when General Electric’s NBC network ended its voluntary ban on hard-liquor ads. On December 14, NBC announced a multimillion-dollar advertising contract with alcoholic-beverage conglomerate, Guinness-UDV (whose brands include Tanqueray gin, Johnnie Walker scotch, Smirnoff vodka, and Smirnoff Ice).

Despite NBC’s claims of responsible advertising standards for liquor products, millions of underage persons will be exposed to hard liquor advertising, as they have been exposed for decades to appealing, funny, and seductive spots for beer. Industry-sponsored and branded "responsibility" messages required by the NBC guidelines represent just another thinly veiled form of product promotion. Research shows that liquor ads teach young people about various brands and how to use alcohol; and they learn from the ads that drinking is fun, cool, and romantic.

At least for now (as of 1/9/02), the other major television networks (ABC, CBS, and Fox, UPN, and WB) have maintained that they have no plans to follow NBC’s dangerous precedent. However, as advertising budgets shrink in the current economic climate, they will be feeling increasing pressure to accept ads for hard liquor.

Numerous public health and safety groups (including the American Medical Association, Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, American Academy of Pediatrics) have deplored NBC’s abandonment of its voluntary ban on hard-liquor advertising and recognize the need to protect young people from a new deluge of ads that glamorize drinking and promote the consumption of hard liquor. [For further background, talking points, and chronology see: []

NBC should reverse its decision and reinstate the voluntary ban on hard-liquor ads; local network affiliates and cable and independent networks and stations should refuse to run such ads. Failing that, Congress should impose meaningful time, place, and manner restrictions on all alcoholic-beverage advertising so that such ads reach as few underage persons as possible. In addition, Congress should require broadcasters and cable companies that air ads for alcoholic beverages to meet the following standards:

1) Equal time for public health and safety messages about the diverse risks of alcohol consumption for young people and adults. Those messages should be produced by government or independent agencies or public health experts not affiliated with alcoholic-beverage industry interests.

2) Health warning messages about the risks of alcohol consumption should become part of all alcohol advertising (print, broadcast, and cable). Those messages should vary, rotate in ads, and address numerous documented risks of alcohol consumption. For television, they should be presented visually and audibly.


1. Write, fax, or phone your Congressional representative and senators at the U.S. House of Representatives, Washington, D.C., 20515 and the U.S. Senate, Washington, D.C. 20510 (see sample letter). Ask to speak to your representatives’ office through the Capitol Switchboard (202) 224-3121. [View sample letter to Congress]

2. Write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper, submit an opinion article to your newspaper, or organize a meeting with the paper’s editorial board. [View letters to the editor, opinion pieces, and editorial board meetings]

3. Write, fax or call your local NBC affiliate to express your disapproval of NBC’s decision to run liquor ads. Urge the station manager to reject the ads. [View sample letter to GE, NBC's owner]

4. Work with your local city council or commission to enact a resolution opposing liquor ads on television, urging local broadcasters to reject such ads, and calling for federal regulation to restrict alcohol commercials on television.

[View sample community resolution]


5. Write, fax, or phone NBC and express your disapproval of liquor ads on network television. Demand the company's assurance that it will reverse its decision to accept advertisements for distilled spirits products on network television.  [View talking points]

Click here to view action alert on broadcast liquor ads.

January 2002