Don't Soft-pedal Alcohol

The United States government will spend $195 million this year to persuade young Americans to avoid addictive drugs. Is there any good reason why some of that money should not be used to point out the dangers of the substance most abused by the young - alcohol?

A couple of members of Congress thought not. That's why they put forward legislation to give the country's chief antidrug official, Barry McCaffrey, the authority to use some of the advertising money available to the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy to steer kids away from beer, wine, and liquor.

But these matters are not so clear-cut as they seem - or as they ought to be. No sooner had Reps. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D) of California and Frank Wolf (R) of Virginia offered their amendment than a political-defense mechanism lurched into action. Alcoholic beverages have a powerful lobby on Capitol Hill, and their producers and distributors contribute faithfully to campaign war chests.

Opposition to the amendment is coalescing in Congress around the argument that including alcohol would dilute or distort the antidrug message. How so, since alcohol destroys more young lives than any other drug, and people who use "hard" drugs typically have tried alcohol first? Binge drinking, threatening order and individual lives, has become an increasing problem on college campuses.

No, what's kicking in is "Big Alcohol's" political clout and America's ambivalence about its most popular over-the-counter addictive drug, which is relentlessly pitched to the young via TV beer ads. Sadly, McCaffrey's office is ambivalent, hardly leaping to support the amendment

Leaving alcohol out of the antidrug campaign creates a gap in common sense and effectiveness. Representatives Roybal-Allard and Wolf get high marks for working to fill it.

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