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Novello Calls for End to Liquor Ads Targeting Youths

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WASHINGTON--Firing a new salvo in her campaign against underage drinking, Surgeon General Antonia C. Novello last week called on beer, wine, and liquor companies to eliminate advertisements that she said specifically target the young.

In a strongly worded attack, Dr. Novello accused the alcohol industry of using print and television advertisements that feature cartoon-like characters, make lifestyle or sexual appeals, use sports figures, and show risky activities to entice young people into drinking.

"These ads have youth believing that, instead of getting up early, exercising, going to school, playing a sport, or learning to be a team player, all they have to do to fit in is learn to drink the right alcoholic beverage," she said.

"I call upon the industry to voluntarily give up the irresponsible ads once and for all," she continued. "If they want to--it can be done. This can be accomplished by each manufacturer simply refusing to use these kinds of ads."

Responding to survey data showing that 8 million students drink weekly, Dr. Novello has made the reduction of alcohol consumption by teenagers a priority in her administration. Reports released by the surgeon general earlier this year found that youths have wide access to alcohol and that many students have little knowledge about what they are drinking. (See Education Week, June 19, 1991 .)

At her press conference last week, Dr. Novello cited a number of highly popular advertisements that are mainstays in the industry's estimated $2-billion-a-year promotional budget. Some of her targets included an advertisement made for St. Ides Malt Liquor featuring the rap star Ice Cube, and Budweiser's cartoon-like character "Bud Man."

Although she did not propose a federal ban on television advertisements for alcohol products similar to one imposed on cigarettes, Dr. Novello said she might consider further action if the alcohol industry does not comply with her request.

She added that she would meet with 14 industry leaders next month to discuss the issue.

Industry Rejects Charges

Alcohol-industry spokesmen denied that their advertisements targeted youths and said they were unlikely to make any changes in their promotional campaigns based on Dr. Novello's remarks.

"The liquor industry strongly opposes the consumption of its products by those under the age of 21," said F.A. Meister, president of the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States. "For this reason, our voluntary 'Cede of Geed Practice' on advertising contains guidelines that prohibit liquor advertising to minors."

Liquor companies also said they would reject guidelines that would clearly state what sort of information or situation could or could not be included in an advertisement.

"Just pulling advertising isn't going to do anything," said James Sanders, president of the Beer Institute. "Who is to say which ones appeal to young people and which one appeals to older people?"

At the press conference, Dr. Novello also released a report by the inspector general of the Department of Health and Human Services, which found that federal regulations do not specifically prohibit youth-oriented alcohol advertisements, and that regulations and industry-approved standards have not deterred advertisers from using promotional materials that attract underage drinkers.

Federal jurisdiction in the area is fragmented among several agencies, making enforcement of regulations difficult, the report found.

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