Dear Senator/Representative:

I am outraged that our children will soon be assaulted by even more alcohol ads on network television, and I urge you to take immediate steps to protect children and adolescents from this new threat. In mid-December, 2001, the NBC television network, which is owned by General Electric, began airing liquor commercials, ending five decades of a responsible voluntary ban on hard-liquor advertising on network broadcast television.

Too many influences already promote drinking by underage youth. Comprehensive research conducted at Michigan State University and the University of Missouri during the past five years confirms that hard-liquor ads on TV would significantly increase the pressures to drink on our nation’s youth. That study found that 15- to 20-year-olds who had greater exposure to TV liquor advertising were more likely to have intentions to drink liquor when older than those with lesser exposure to those ads.  Half the young respondents said that such ads teach them which brands taste best, how other people use alcohol, and which brands are most popular.

Alcohol is by far America’s number-one youth drug problem. It kills six times more kids than all illicit drugs combined and underage drinking costs our country an estimated $52 billion per year. According to the latest government data, nearly one-third of all 12- to 20-year-olds report using alcohol within the past month. Of those youth, nearly 20 percent binge drink.

I am especially concerned about those new ads because young people are highly susceptible to harm associated with drinking. The age of first alcohol use strongly predicts future alcohol dependence. Those who start drinking before the age of 15 are four times more likely to become alcoholics than those who wait until they are 21. Adolescents who consume alcohol are more likely to engage in high risk behaviors, such as becoming sexually active at an earlier age and having unprotected sex (placing them at greater risk of HIV infection and other sexually transmitted diseases). Alcohol use by young people also contributes to higher rates of clinical depression, academic problems, crime victimization, and sexual assault.

I am also concerned that NBC’s "responsibility" guidelines do not adequately protect kids from increased exposure to alcohol promotion. At the very least, credible, effective responsibility standards for alcoholic-beverage advertising would:

  1. Apply to all alcohol (including beer and wine, as well as distilled spirits);
  2. Require "equal time" for independent alcohol-prevention messages developed by public health experts, not by the alcoholic-beverage industry;
  3. Meet demographic targeting standards that severely limit the total number (as well as the percentage of the total audience) of underage persons that would be reached by alcoholic-beverage advertising, and;
  4. Require that commercials include rotating health warning messages alerting all consumers to a wide range of risks related to alcohol consumption.

Please support legislative efforts to place reasonable public health and safety restrictions on the promotion of alcohol in broadcast television. Thank you for your time and consideration.

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Click here to view action alert on broadcast liquor ads.

January 2002