The Center for Science in the Public Interest charged yesterday that the alcoholic beverage industry aims many of its advertisements at alcoholics and young people.
Industry assertions that advertising is aimed at provoking a switch in brand loyalty and not in encouraging drinking "are essentially a smokescreen to hide the most massive efforts to promote the sale of alcohol, regardless of the consequences to the public," Michael F. Jacobson, executive director of the nonprofit group, said at a press conference.
But Fred Meister, president of the Distilled Spirits Council of the U.S., replied in an interview, "It's absolutely false that the industry targets heavy drinkers and underaged drinkers." Meister said that the industry has been responsible in preaching moderation to those who choose to drink.
Consumption of distilled spirits--hard liquor--has declined and Americans are drinking less, he continued. "On an overall basis, the American public is drinking very moderately. You can see that in the parties you go to."
The center referred to several advertisements which it said supported its conclusions. One advertisement showed a "Men Working" sign, and beneath it a bottle of Steel Schnapps and four shot glasses. "After a hard day's work, pour youself some Steel," the copy in the advertisement said.
"Heavy drinkers, among whom are 10 million alcoholics, account for the great majority of sales" of alcoholic beverages, Jacobson said. "So it is natural that the industry should pitch its products to them."
The report, "The Booze Merchants: The Inebriating of America," also quotes an Anheuser-Busch marketing executive, discussing the company's targeting of male consumers, as saying that "70 percent of all the beer is consumed by 20 percent of the population, and it's male dominated."
Jacobson also charged that liquor industry advertisers are targeting youths, including underage drinkers, by advertising heavily in college publications. One advertisement cited by Jacobson showed a student looking up from a pile of books and papers. "Drawing a blank?" the copy read. "Draw a (Carta) Blanca."
Rep. George E. Brown Jr. (D-Calif.) said at the press conference that he is reintroducing two bills--one that would prohibit treating alcoholic beverage advertising as a tax deductible business expense and another that would require a warning on alcoholic beverage labels and in advertising, though he conceded that neither appears likely to pass.
Brown said that the Office of Technology Assessment has estimated that alcohol and alcohol abuse may cost the nation as much as $120 billion in lost labor, health expenditures, highway accidents and other costs.
Jacobson said that advertising was only one of a large number of messages (including messages from family and peers and from television shows and movies) that people receive that encourage them to drink.
He noted that advertising for alcohol has tripled in the past decade (as have advertising expenditures in general) and called for restrictions on alcohol advertising, such as banning ads on radio and television.
Meister, who characterized the CSPI as "a very dedicated anti-alcohol group," noted that voluntary industry restrictions keep advertising for distilled spirits off of television and radio.
The CSPI report was produced by Jacobson, George Hacker and Robert Atkins.