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For Immediate
December 20, 2001

For more information:

  “Liquor Ads Don’t Belong on Network Television”
Statement of George A. Hacker Director, Alcohol Policies Project, CSPI

     For decades, hard-liquor marketers and broadcasters in this country respected a sensible rule when it came to advertising liquor. Recognizing the power of television advertising to influence human relationships and lifestyle choices and the special vulnerabilities of young viewers, they wisely kept liquor ads off television. Since 1996, that responsible position has crumbled, leading to a small, but steadily increasing, stream of liquor ads on cable and independent stations. Today, with the NBC television network’s shameless decision to accept liquor ads for broadcast, that stream threatens to become a flood that will drown our children in a deeper-than-ever sea of alcohol advertising.

     NBC says that it has set a new standard for responsibility by imposing strict restrictions on the airing of liquor ads. It says that the liquor ads will run only after 9 p.m. - 8 p.m. central – or on shows that have an audience that is at least 85 percent adult. How many 16- to 18-year-olds magically disappear from the television audience at 9 p.m.? Is an audience that’s only 15 percent under the age of 21 devoid of young viewers? In fact, a liquor-ad-approved show that draws 5 million viewers would include 750,000 underage persons in the audience, certainly an interesting target for liquor pushers, who need to attract young people in their competition with brewers.

     There’s another reason why NBC’s standard is a joke. Less than 15 percent of the audience for a given show may be below age 21, but that show could still reach millions of underage people and large proportions of all young people. In other words, a show watched by every American over the age of ten – including every single 10- to 19-year-old – would essentially meet NBC’s fraudulent standard. Rather than protect young people, NBC actually serves them up to liquor marketers, in droves.

     The true measure of NBC’s responsibility is its failure – for decades – to impose even those weak advertising guidelines on beer and wine marketers. Accepting liquor ads for broadcast, even with these so-called restrictions, compounds NBC’s flouting of its public interest obligations.

     Americans are concerned about alcohol problems and the future of their children. And they’re very concerned about NBC’s plans to introduce hard-liquor ads to network television. With good reason: young people start drinking at an average age of 13.1; those who begin by the age of 15 are four times as likely to become alcohol dependent than those who wait until age 21; alcohol is a factor in the four leading causes of death among persons 10 to 24, in motor-vehicle crashes, unintentional injuries, homicide, and suicide. Underage drinking costs Americans some $53 billion annually.

     Just after NBC’s decision to abandon its public-interest obligations as a broadcaster and accept ads for hard liquor, CSPI commissioned the Washington, D.C. polling firm of Penn, Schoen & Berland Associates, Inc., to survey Americans about their attitudes regarding liquor advertising on television. What we found indicates that NBC is out of touch with the American people. By large majorities, respondents told us that they supported the networks’ voluntary bans on liquor ads, that they opposed NBC’s decision to take liquor ads, and that they thought it is dangerous to have liquor ads on television because they will introduce young people under the age of 21 to liquor.

     NBC’s shameful acceptance of liquor ads that threaten our children’s health and safety is a clear sign that voluntary advertising standards do not work. When they become inconvenient or stand in the way of easy money, they play second fiddle to economic concerns. Remember, that liquor marketers, until 1996, voluntarily stayed off TV, until they decided to reverse the steady decline in liquor consumption and go after the beer industry’s customers. This latest assault on America’s children demands official action. I am delighted that Representative Frank Wolf and many others share our outrage and have begun to seek an appropriate legislative solution. They have the strong support of the American people.

     At this point, I would like to ask Marty McGough to fill you in on details of the poll which his firm conducted. Thank you very much.