For Release: August 7, 1998

Contact: George Hacker, CSPI  (202) 332-9110



Search for Data on Industry Self-Regulation Sets Stage for Tighter Voluntary and Governmental Standards to Protect Underage Persons

Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) today applauded long-awaited actions by the Federal Trade Commission to address alcohol advertising abuses. "These enforcement actions send a forceful reminder to alcohol promoters that some ad pitches are clearly out of bounds. They remind the rest of us that industry self-regulation is inadequate, and that voluntary industry advertising codes are weak, ambiguous, and unenforceable," said George Hacker, director of CSPI's alcohol policies project. "We expect the Commission will reach the same conclusion when it scrutinizes alcohol companies' efforts to comply with their industries' voluntary advertising standards."

The Commission has ordered leading beer and liquor companies to provide information about their self-regulation of advertising practices and their efforts to avoid appealing to underage consumers. "This FTC inquiry lays the groundwork for improvements in industry self-regulation and eventual adoption of more effective governmental regulation of alcohol advertising that targets and appeals to young people," added Hacker.

This week, the FTC settled two cases involving televised ads for Beck's beer and Kahlua White Russian pre-mix cocktail. The Beck's ad, which depicted young people drinking on a boat, violated the FTC Act by presenting alcohol consumption in a potentially dangerous situation. Intoxication is a common risk factor for falling overboard and drowning. The ad for Kahlua White Russian misrepresented the product, which contains 5.9 percent alcohol by volume, as a "low alcohol" beverage. Under the settlements, both companies would be prohibited from running those and similar ads in the future.

On the heels of the settlements, the Commission also issued orders to four major brewers and four major distillers seeking "special reports" about efforts those companies have undertaken to comply with voluntary advertising guidelines designed to prevent targeting alcohol advertising to underage consumers. The requested information will assist the FTC in reporting to Congress on alcohol advertising and marketing that may impact underage consumers.

For the first time, the Commission has asked major beer marketers (among the other companies from whom information was sought) Anheuser-Busch and Miller Brewing Co. to "provide information on the appeal of certain advertising techniques and themes to those under the legal drinking age" and to detail "company efforts to ensure that any marketing activities on college campuses are directed to an adult audience."

Hacker commented, "Those brewers, in particular, use a variety of characters, spokes people, music, sports themes, and adolescent humor that have inherent appeal among young people, including children and teenagers. It comes as no surprise that children ages 6 to 17 who responded to an advertising agency survey named Budweiser ads (which feature animated frogs and lizards) their favorites. Those companies will have a lot of explaining to do."


CSPI is a nonprofit health-advocacy organization that focuses on alcoholic-beverage problems, nutrition, and food safety. It is based in Washington, D.C., and is supported largely by more than one million subscribers to its Nutrition Action Healthletter and foundation grants. It does not accept industry or government funding. CSPI led efforts to win passage of the law requiring warning labels on alcoholic beverages and has publicized the nutritional content of many popular restaurant foods.