Curbing TV Liquor Ads

Though laudable on its face, NBC's decision to stop its efforts to put hard-liquor ads on the air was mostly a cave-in to congressional pressure and public interest groups.

But the network's retreat is not a victory over alcohol advertising – especially its effect on youth. Consider a few data points from government and private research compiled by Mothers Against Drunk Driving:

• The brewing industry spends more than $1 billion a year promoting its products – much of it on the new surge of malt beverages ("alcopops") popular with teens. (Beer is the most popular drink for underage teens – and drunk drivers.)

• For each "Drink Responsibly" public-service announcement viewed, teens are looking at 25 to 50 beer and wine ads.

• And despite NBC's reversal, several national cable channels and some 300 local stations run commercials for distilled spirits.

Where has all this led? For the first time in a decade, alcohol-related fatalities are up. The average age at which kids first try alcohol continues to drop. It's now down to 12.8.

According to a Harvard School of Public Health study, the proportion of college students who say they "binge" drink has stayed level at 44 percent for eight years. But binge drinking is on the rise at women's colleges.

The Distilled Spirits Council objects to the beer and wine industries' ability to advertise on TV while its hard-liquor businesses can't. But can anyone really make a reasonable case why alcohol advertising of any sort – beer, wine, or distilled spirits – should not be off the airwaves?

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