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Liquor Ad Logic Hardly Convincing

The liquor industry should re-think its decision to advertise spirits on television. The ban was voluntary, and a responsible approach on the part of the industry. True, free-speech makes it legal for the liquor industry to overturn its self-imposed ban, but it's bad for our kids and our communities. In short, it's bad public policy.
Liquor Ad Logic Hardly Convincing

The hard liquor industry has recently eliminated its voluntary ban on television advertising. Advertising hard liquor on television merely represents free speech they say. Ending the ban on liquor ads on television doesn't encourage problem drinking, and has required "courage" on the part of NBC for standing up to so-called prohibitionists. What the industry fails to address is whether or not advertising hard liquor on television is good public policy. On this count, the industry's claims don't pass the laugh test.

The real issue at stake is what social norms are created through advertising alcohol on television. What passes in our society as 'normal behavior' - indeed, what passes for desirable behavior, and what we consider valuable commodities are replayed for us thousands of times a day through multi-million dollar advertising campaigns. For more than 50 years, the alcohol industry and the major networks have recognized the power of advertising and its impact on attitudes about products, and have voluntarily chosen not to advertise alcohol on television. Now the alcohol industry wants to trade-in this responsible approach for an "anything goes" approach to advertising. The people who pay the price for this approach will be our young people.

Advocates for scrapping the ban on hard liquor on TV make a weak case for hard liquor advertising by saying (as one columnist put it) that it won't impact alcoholics since anyone familiar with treatment programs knows that "booze isn't the problem. Drinking it is." But isn't the whole point of these advertisements to get people to drink the product? Further, this new approach implies that the only people watching these ads are responsible adults. This leap of faith ignores the impact of advertising on young people who are fully exposed to the products advertised on television. Yes, NBC has said they will only air the spots after 9pm, but we all know kids will be watching during those times, and certainly during popular programming like Saturday Night Live and the Tonight Show.

The idea that somehow advertising alcohol is like advertising other products would be laughable if it weren't so misinformed. After all, driving an SUV, or buying a new stereo doesn't impair judgment, give you a hangover, lead to dangerous behavior, or to a greater propensity for addiction later in life (according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism studies show that the younger the age of drinking onset, the greater the chance of alcoholism). Parents already have plenty of problems dealing with the glorification of beer and wine on television - do they really need to be fighting off Captain Morgan, too?

In the most recent national survey of teen use and attitudes of drugs, alcohol remains the number one drug of choice among young people. Almost 80 percent of high school seniors report using alcohol, and about 64% of the same sample admitted to having been drunk at some time. The results speak for themselves. We have a major drinking problem among youth in this country, which is not only dangerous - it's illegal. Advertising hard liquor on television only exacerbates this problem.

Eliminating the voluntary ban on hard alcohol advertising isn't about prohibition, or responsible use of alcohol by adults. Rather, this is a mercenary decision that reaps big profits for NBC, and leaves our children and communities at greater risk of dealing with the consequences of illegal underage drinking. NBC should rethink its policy on advertising hard liquor on television, and the other networks should be supported for not following the competition down this reckless, if lucrative path.

Christopher Curtis is Communications Director of the Oregon Partnership, a statewide non-profit organization dedicated to substance abuse prevention and treatment referral, and a member of the Oregon Coalition to Reduce Underage Drinking.

homepage: homepage: http://www.orpartnership.org
phone: phone: 503-244=5211
address: address: 6443 SW Beaverton-Hillsdale Highway, Suite 200, Portland, OR 97221