Statement of George Hacker, Director, Alcohol Policies Project

Press Conference on Legislation Authorizing Underage Drinking Prevention Messages in the ONDCP Youth Anti-Drug Advertising Campaign
June 7, 1999

My name is George Hacker and I am the Director of the Alcohol Policies Project of the Center for Science in the Public Interest in Washington, D.C. We support the Roybal-Allard/Wolf language in the Treasury-Postal Appropriations bill. Today I'm also announcing the growing informal coalition of organizations -- including 76 national, state and local groups that, as of this morning, have joined a statement that supports the inclusion of underage drinking prevention messages in the Office of National Drug Control Policy "National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign."

The list of organizations in the coalition includes major national public health groups like the American Medical Association and the American Public Health Association, anti-crime groups like the National Crime Prevention Council, children's groups like the Child Welfare League of America, National Families in Action, and Youth Power International, and religious groups like the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, the National Association of Evangelicals, and the United Methodist Church's Board of Church and Society.

As you can imagine, the groups have a wide variety of viewpoints on all aspects of this controversy -- but we are united in a common belief that alcohol is the largest drug problem facing America's youth. We are also united on the fact that for the ONDCP media campaign to be effective it must include advertising aimed at discouraging underage drinking.

We are outraged by the efforts of the alcoholic-beverage industry, particularly the National Beer Wholesalers Association, to discourage the inclusion of anti-alcohol messages in the federal government's largest and most ambitious non-military advertising campaign to date. Have they no shame? These are our children!

Every day I get phone calls, faxes, and e-mail messages all expressing disbelief that the drug of choice and the most devastating drug for American youth, beer, is hiding behind the skirts of government officials and advertising consultants. Anti-drug experts and ordinary people are at a loss to understand why anyone would object to underage drinking prevention messages in a youth anti-drug campaign.

Officials at the ONDCP, including General Barry McCaffrey, readily concede that alcohol is by far the greatest drug threat to young people in America. Early alcohol use vastly increases the potential for dependence and addiction, both for alcohol and illicit drugs. Alcohol is not only the drug that's most used by our young people, it's almost always the first drug and is often used along with other substances. Underage drinking kills 6 and a half times as many young people every year as all other drugs combined.

The beer wholesalers and other alcohol purveyors have offered one red herring after another to Congress. They've said that an underage drinking prevention message will dilute the anti-drug message, when in fact it will strengthen it; they've said it's unfair to use taxpayers' money to destroy a legal industry, when in fact including alcohol messages would acknowledge parents' concern that alcohol is the principal youth-drug problem. They want Congress and the public to believe that youth anti-drinking advertisements would hurt alcohol sales to adults. This legislation specifically authorizes ONDCP to target only illegal underage drinking. Does the alcohol lobby's concern point out an important cash cow they'd rather not admit or, apparently, sacrifice? David Rehr of the National Beer Wholesalers Association told the Los Angeles Times that the people best suited to run an underage-drinking prevention media effort are those who sell alcohol. Well, that would be like putting Slobodan Milosevic in charge of the repatriation of Kosovar Albanians.

The facts in this matter are simple:

(1) The drug of choice, and the biggest problem drug for America's children is alcohol. Underage drinking is the root of their drug problems.

(2) General McCaffrey testified to Congress that his office was prohibited by statute from including any underage drinking prevention work in the federally paid portion of the media campaign.

(3) The modest legislative proposal of Reps. Lucille Roybal-Allard and Frank Wolf merely remedies this problem and allows McCaffrey's ONDCP to begin work on preventing children from using their drug of choice. ONDCP has told the press that it does not oppose this provision. However, in its most recent statement distributed this morning, it once again fell into bed with the National Beer Wholesalers Association.

(4) Representative Anne Northup, who opposes adding an alcohol message to the anti-drug ad campaign, has received campaign contributions from the alcoholic-beverage industry. In fact, by a large margin, she's received the most from the alcoholic-beverage industry of any member of the House Appropriations Committee. She would like to continue to tie ONDCP's hands and prevent that agency from taking on the full range of our children's drug problems.

The choice for members of Congress is simple: either they are opposed to underage drinking -- or they are not. Either they stand up to protect America's children or they stand up for alcoholic-beverage industry special interests.