|February 28, 1997
We are writing to encourage you to stand up for America's children and "Just Say No" to advertising for hard liquor in the broadcast media. Specifically, we encourage you to co-sponsor and support legislation by that name that will soon be introduced in the House by Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy II and others. The measure, which Rep. Kennedy first introduced in the 104th Congress, would formalize five decades of liquor industry policy and practice. Even today, the vast majority of distillers and broadcasters still abide by those standards of good practice that have served the industry and the public so well for so long: they refuse to run ads on radio and television.
Barely three years ago, the president of the liquor trade association, the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, told the Senate Commerce Committee that the voluntary ban was a key part of the industry's efforts to "combat alcohol abuse." Our groups have often praised the industry for the restraint that has distinguished their advertising from that of brewers, who frequently reach, target, and entertain youthful audiences on radio and television. Now is no time for the industry to turn its back on alcohol abuse.
Our children already receive too many commercial messages in the broadcast media that teach them how and encourage them to drink. It is time to draw the line, and the "Just Say No" Act will do just that.
Allowing liquor ads on the air can only lead to greater alcohol consumption and higher levels of alcohol problems. After years of decline, alcohol-related traffic crash deaths have begun to increase again. According to the most recent "Monitoring the Future Study" released by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, binge drinking among underage high school students remains at unacceptably high levels, and drunkenness among 8th graders has increased. In the past decade, reports of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, which severely impairs the normal development of thousands of children, have increased almost five-fold.
On January 6, the Wall Street Journal and Advertising Age Magazine reported significant targeting of underage audiences by brewers on MTV. In some cases, underage people exposed to those beer ads comprised more than 60% of the audience. Those ad placements clearly violated even the weak voluntary advertising guidelines of the beer industry. We question whether the liquor industry will do any better.
Early reports on the placement of broadcast liquor ads reveal that distillers will be no more responsible in avoiding inappropriate youth audiences. Already, despite intense public scrutiny, Seagram's commercials have appeared during weekend college and professional football telecasts, Monday Night Football, and during a 7:00 P.M. showing of the Cosby Show. The company's radio ads ran on youth-oriented, rock-and-roll format radio stations. Taking the distillers' "equivalency" argument to its logical conclusion, we can soon expect to see liquor advertising wherever we now see ads for beer. We can also expect that liquor ads will make the same kinds of youth appeals that appear in beer ads as competition for young drinkers -- and non-drinkers -- intensifies.
Distillers demand equity when it comes to competing with beer and wine for alcohol consumers. We strongly believe that such equity should not be won at the expense of our children and public health and safety. Rather than permit distillers the same unfettered access to our children that brewers now enjoy, Congress should examine ways to reduce all alcohol advertising that reaches substantial numbers of underage persons. The "Just Say No" Act provides a reasonable starting point for that important undertaking.
Thank you for your consideration. If you have any questions, please call George Hacker at Center for Science in the Public Interest at (202) 332-9110, ext. 343.