Deception in pretty packages
''Only two of us in my dormitory last spring didn't drink,'' a college senior said ruefully the other day. ''The other 94 did'' - several frequently and heavily.Skip to next paragraph
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Unfortunately this widespread consumption of alcoholic beverages is a too-typical portrait of social life on American college campuses today. It is a testament to the aggressiveness of the alcoholic beverage industry in promulgating the specious message that alcohol consumption somehow makes a youth instantly mature. It is the same message that makes alcoholic beverages ''the drug of choice for most grade school and high school students,'' in the words of former Federal Communications Commissioner Nicho-las Johnson. And it is why a school superintendent in upstate New York routinely must deal with children as young as fourth grade who come to school either drunk or unable to function due to having been drunk the previous night.
But the alcoholic beverage industry is not satisfied with this degree of corruption of America's youth. As two recent articles in this newspaper showed, it now seeks in several ways to sell more alcohol to youth and women. One is by convincing them that some alcoholic drinks - especially the new, lower-calorie ''light wines'' - are everyday beverages just like soft drinks and milk. Another is by pressuring those state legislatures which do not permit alcoholic beverages to be sold in supermarkets to reverse themselves: Populous Pennsylvania and New York are current targets. And a third is by encasing the product in more attractive packaging.
Hard sell is nothing new for the liquor industry. For instance, during the decade of the 1970s it tripled its spending on advertising.
Nonetheless progress against alcohol abuse has been recorded in recent years. Many industrial firms operate programs to aid their employees who abuse alcohol. Well-known baseball players have had the courage to admit and conquer their alcohol problems. And a number of states have moved energetically against drunk driving through higher minimum drinking ages, stiffer laws, and tougher enforcement.
With headway being made in this area, now is no time to relax vigilance in others.
State legislatures must give a resounding ''no'' to the alcoholic beverage lobby's efforts to get its products distributed in supermarkets in all states.
Parents should stop ''introducing'' their underage children to drinking. Colleges should cease the too-prevalent practice of permitting underage students to drink in dormitories - or, as some do, of welcoming students with a gathering at which alcoholic beverages are served.
Most of all, Americans of all ages need to realize there is no glamour in the use or abuse of alcohol. Alcohol is a drug as certainly as heroin, cocaine, and marijuana. Genuine relaxation is attainable in many ways without the risks and escapism that accompany the use of any of these drugs.