Given the problem of drunken driving in the United States, it is bad enough to have the usual holiday-season proliferation of glossy advertisements in newspapers and magazines extolling liquor products. But when local television and radio stations suddenly become willing to accept dollars for airing such dubious messages, it is time to draw a clear line.
Sadly, a few stations have now begun to allow broadcasting of vodka ads. Had it not been for citizen outrage in Boston this past summer (when a local radio station initially hawked vodka commercials during baseball broadcasts), the audience for such messages might have been even larger. But what concerns some public citizen groups such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) is that, because of last week's elimination of self-imposed broadcasting industry curbs on advertising, more and more stations hungry for quick revenues might be willing to open their doors to liquor ads.
As part of a settlement with the US Justice Department, the National Association of Broadcasters has made permanent the elimination of a provision that banned liquor, firearms, and contraceptive advertising. While there is a federal ban on cigarette ads for broadcasters, there has been no such provision regarding liquor ads other than the voluntary code of the NAB.
The ''compromise'' that has been informally worked out by the broadcasting industry in recent years has itself been halfhearted - that is, allowing commercials for beer and wine but not for hard liquor. Surely there is a strong case for not allowing any advertising for alcoholic drinks on the airwaves, given the clear correlation between youth drinking and highway mishaps. Moreover , studies such as those made by Michigan State University indicate that young people are particularly susceptible to alcohol advertising, even going so far as to ''test'' products endorsed by celebrities.
At the very least, the self-enforced ban against hard-liquor advertising should remain in place. Broadcasters have a special responsibility to their communities precisely because they can come into the home by the mere flick of a switch. Radio and TV station executives are morally delinquent who forget that responsibility as they go about signing up sponsors during the weeks and months ahead.