Advertising Alcoholic Beverages to Children

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Advertising Alcoholic Beverages to Children

Alcohol manufacturers use a variety of unscrupulous techniques to advertise alcoholic beverages to children. Perhaps the worst example is Anheuser-Busch Co., the world's largest brewer, which uses child-enticing cartoon images of frogs, dogs, penguins and lizards in ads for Budweiser beer. These Budweiser cartoon characters are hugely popular with children, just like Joe Camel ads. A KidCom Marketing study once found these Budweiser cartoon character ads were American children's favorite ads. This is no accident. Anheuser-Busch is conducting an advertising campaign to get children to start drinking beer. These Budweiser ads are unconscionable. So are Phillip Morris's Miller Lite "twist to open" commercials, which are among children's top 10 favorite ads, according to another study by KidCom.

Hard liquor ads on television are equally unconscionable. In June, 1996, Joseph E. Seagrams & Sons Co. broke a 48 year old voluntary ban on advertising hard liquor on television. Five months later, the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States (DISCUS) re-wrote its Code of Good Practice to allow its member distillers to advertise on radio and television. Even if these TV ads are aired only after 9 or 10 PM, they will still reach millions of American children.

Alcohol advertising may increase alcohol consumption, including drinking by minors. Based on this effect, various municipalities around the country have attempted to ban alcohol advertising. These attempts have met with mixed results in the courts. This section will attempt to explain how a municipality can legally ban alcohol advertising.

Commercial Speech

The only constitutional impediment to banning alcohol advertising is First Amendment freedom of speech. Alcohol producers and their advertising companies will usually bring suit against a municipality which bans alcohol advertisements, arguing that the ban is an unconstitutional abridgement of the freedom of speech. Advertising, however, is only "commercial speech," which is protected by the First Amendment 1. but not to the extent that political speech is protected. Therefore, a municipality can regulate advertising much more than it can regulate "pure" First Amendment speech.

Types of Alcohol Advertising

Alcohol is advertised on billboards and other signs, in print, and on radio and television. It is al...

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...ard the substance of alcohol as neutral --- neither inherently good nor inherently bad. What matters is how it is used, and we must convey by word and example that the abuse of alcohol is never humorous, acceptable, or excusable.

Do alcohol ads portray the products being enjoyed in the most appealing settings and by the most attractive people? Of course they often do --- no less than do ads for cars, instant coffee and anti-fungal sprays. That normalcy of alcohol ads helps demystify the product --- which is a good place to begin encouraging realistic, moderate, and responsible attitudes about it.

Responsible attitudes toward alcohol are based on the understanding that such beverages are yet another part of life over which individuals have control, like exercise, personal hygiene, or diet.

If alcohol beverages are to be used moderately by those who choose to consume them, then it's important that these beverages not be stigmatized, compared to illegal drugs, and associated with abuse. They aren't dangerous poisons to be hidden from sight and become a subject of mystery and perhaps fascinating appeal. But that would be the message sent if alcohol commercials were banned from TV.

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