Anti-Alcohol Stew Heats Up After Report

Following the release of a federal study on underage drinking, Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., said last week he will ask drug czar John Walters to include anti-alcohol messages that target parents in the national anti-drug media campaign.

“I do think it is important for the drug czar to participate,” Wolf said. “I will send him a letter asking him how they can blend the two together.”

The study, released last week by the National Academy of Sciences, calls for such an effort. “Parents tend to dramatically underestimate underage drinking generally and their own children’s drinking in particular,” the report said.

The beer and liquor industries oppose any inclusion of alcohol-related messages with the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy’s anti-drug media campaign.

“Drug use is illegal, but alcohol can be and is consumed responsibly by millions of adults, so the messages need to be separate,” said Lisa Hawkins, a rep with the Distilled Spirits Council of the U.S. “The key is not to just throw money at the problem, but to come up with effective solutions. We need to make sure whatever steps we take are science-based.”

Jeff Becker, president of the Beer Institute, is not convinced there is a need for such ads. “I would be very concerned about what a campaign to parents would look like,” he said. “I’ve seen no evidence that doing a na- tional media campaign does any better than the community-based efforts we and a lot of other groups do.”

“We do recognize that drinking is an illegal drug for minors,” said ONDCP rep Tom Riley. “We look forward to getting [Rep. Wolf’s letter] and reading it.”

The issue of including messages about alcohol with the anti-drug media campaign first surfaced in 1998, after Mothers Against Drunk Driving lobbied heavily for it. At the time, drug czar Barry McCaffrey opposed it, arguing there was not enough money allocated to do effective campaigns for both alcohol and drugs.

The dearth of resources has changed little since then. ONDCP’s campaign budget dropped from $180 million last year to $150 million this year. The House has appropriated $150 million for the campaign next year, but the Senate has called for only $100 million. The issue must be resolved in a conference session between the two chambers.

A bill by Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard, D-Calif., to fund a separate anti-alcohol campaign through the Department of Health and Human Services is stuck in committee. But Roybal-Allard said the NAS report could create a willingness among lawmakers to push for passage of her bill.

“That … may be ready to move forward now,” she said.

George Hacker, director of the Alcohol Policies Project at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, argued that in the absence of such a media campaign, the alcohol industry has “a near monopoly as educators of young people about alcohol.”