Novello Urges Alcoholic Beverage Industry to Voluntarily Stop Ads Aimed at Youth

Article excerpt

U.S. Surgeon General Antonia C. Novello, MD, called for the alcoholic beverage industry's "voluntary elimination of the types of alcohol advertising that appeal to youth," and assailed those ads based on "certain lifestyle appeals, sexual appeal, sports appeal, or risk activities, as well as advertising with the more blatant youth appeals of cartoon characters and youth slang."

The Surgeon General plans to hold a meeting Dec. 11 with the chief executive officers of 14 alcoholic beverage companies to begin a "dialogue" to explore how such advertising can be brought to an end. Although Novello termed her call for voluntary withdrawal of ads targeted to youth a "bold" step, she stopped short of endorsing federal legislative action to crack down on youth alcohol ads, including pending bills which would require health and risk warnings on all alcoholic beverage advertising, the Sensible Advertising and Family Education (SAFE) Act of 1991 (HR-1443, S-664) (AR, March). Lawmakers and constituency groups backing the bill expressed disappointment that Novellos' recommendations did not go far enough, and felt that relying on the industry to police itself would not work. (Story below.)

Novello issued her call for voluntary action at a Nov. 4 news conference in Washington, DC, where she released the fourth in a series of reports on Youth and Alcohol, prepared by the office of the HHS Inspector General, Richard P. Kusserow (AR, June-July, September).

The report, entitled "Youth and Alcohol: Controlling Alcohol Advertising that Appeals to Youth," concluded that attempts to curb such advertising are fragmented and limited, and voluntary standards by alcohol and broadcast industries are not effective.

Novello said the report showed that "once again, we are giving our children the wrong message about alcohol -- this time in advertisements," and added:

"Most disturbingly, what the report shows is that we have a profoundly complicated, baffling situation on our hands when it comes to controlling alcohol advertising that appeals to our young people. We have federal and state regulations that don't apply, we have inadequate and unenforceable voluntary codes on the part of industry and media, and we have a society that is sending mixed messages to our children. In short: No one truly is in charge."

Among major findings of the Inspector General's study were:

+ Federal jurisdiction is fragmented across several agencies -- the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

+ Federal regulations do not specifically prohibit alcohol ads that appeal to youth: the primary goal of the BATF and FTC regulations on advertising is to ensure that consumers receive truthful and accurate information about products.

+ The BATF's enforcement authority is limited: Without state regulations that mirror BATF's regulations, BATF has no ability to regulate malt beverage labeling or advertising. Also, unlike vintners and distillers, brewers are not required to obtain permits from BATF. Therefore, BATF lacks an important enforcement tool.

+ States have difficulty adopting legislation to control alcohol advertising: Pressures on state legislators from vested interests can be a barrier to regulating alcohol advertising.

+ Alcohol industry standards do not effectively restrict ads that appeal to youth and they are unenforceable: They do not specifically address the types of ads the public is concerned about, and the codes are strictly voluntary.

+ Broadcast network enforcement is based on negotiations with advertisers: While the networks negotiate with advertisers over their standards, they must also attract advertising revenues to stay in business.

+ A case study of five ads found that the current regulations and standards have not deterred advertisers from using ads that appeal to youth. …

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