WASHINGTON — * When talk began of a possible hike in excise taxes on alcohol, Anheuser-Busch sprang into action.
Since February, trucks carrying the products of the nation's largest brewer have carried signs urging customers to call an 800 number to learn how a higher tax would affect them.
About 1,500 people a month have called. They are sent a packet of information on beer taxes, informing them, for example, that federal taxes were just doubled in 1991.
``While we do not have any plans to contact callers again, we may decide to in [the] future,'' said Stephen Lambright, a vice president of Anheuser-Busch, in a written response to questions.
All the alcoholic beverage industries are breathing a little easier now that the Clinton administration has decided against proposing higher taxes on them to help fund health-care reform. But the issue isn't gone.
Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders says alcohol should be taxed more because of the health impact of drinking. And Congress has the final word.
Like the tobacco industry, the alcohol industry stresses potential job losses if the tax were to increase.
Various beer-industry representatives give conflicting information, however, when asked how many jobs were lost after the '91 tax hike. Anheuser-Busch says 60,000. The Beer Institute, which represents the whole industry, says 31,000.
John Fellows, a spokesman for Coors brewing company, says it's not possible to measure layoffs at Coors because it is constantly shifting the size of its work force for a variety of reasons. But, he adds, ``excise taxes are certainly damaging.''
Coors has also tried to generate grass-roots pressure on Congress. The company has sent to its distributors a 12-minute video of Leo Kiely, the president of Coors, explaining the company's position on excise taxes and urging them to contact their members of Congress.
The Beer Institute is running ads trying to show that it's a good citizen. The text urges adults not to confuse children about beer by calling it a drug.
``While not perfect, our industry is part of the fabric of our nation's life and the lives of many honest, upright citizens,'' the ad reads. ``Crack, cocaine, and heroin are not.''