OLYMPIA, WASH., JAN. 30 -- The Washington State Liquor Control Board today killed the most ambitious effort in the nation to restrict alcohol advertising, saying it had no proof that commercials caused drunkenness.
"There is no scientific evidence presented that there is a direct link between alcohol advertising and alcohol abuse," said Paula O'Connor, 40, an accountant who chairs the three-member board.
Robert D. Hannah, a retired department store executive in his seventies, and Mike Murphy, 48, a former Grays Harbor County commissioner, also voted against the proposal by the Washington State Medical Association to ban ads that imply that "liquor enhances . . . professional or social achievement of any kind."
Board members said they thought that the state already is successful in keeping alcohol advertisers from appealing to children. They voted to make minor adjustments in current rules, including explicitly banning child-sized clothing with alcohol brand names or logos.
State Rep. Michael Heavey (D) said that he will continue trying for passage of his bill banning television beer and wine commercials but that he anticipates heavy liquor industry resistance.
Christine Lubinski, of the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, said she was disappointed in the board's failure to see a connection between advertising and alcoholism. She said she found it encouraging, however, that the board considered an approach that liquor control agencies in other states have ignored.
More than 100 witnesses appeared before the board at a seven-hour hearing in November. Doctors said advertisements showing youthful drinking parties and a beer mascot, Spuds MacKenzie, appealed to children. They cited a Cleveland State University study reporting that the more adolescents saw drinkers portrayed as "cool, fun and carefree," the more liquor they consumed.
Industry executives cited other studies showing no connection between advertising and youthful drinking and called the medical association proposal an unconstitutional restriction on free speech.
The American Civil Liberties Union, which opposed the federal ban on television tobacco commercials, also criticized the Washington state liquor advertising proposal as "vague and overbroad," ACLU spokesman Doug Honig said.
Simon Siegl, executive director of the Washington Wine Institute, applauded the board's decision and its call for self-regulation by advertisers. Washington wine makers have enjoyed "double-digit growth" recently, he said, that would have been threatened by the proposal.