Surgeon General Calls for Ad Retreat

BOSTON The U.S. Surgeon General’s Office has called for an end to alcohol advertising in college publications, alcohol-company sponsored college events and a voluntary cutback on billboards in an effort to curb underage drinking.

In addition, the SGO asked the entertainment and media industries not to glamorize underage alcohol use in films and on TV.

The report made no call for new legislation, but proposed intensifying and expanding educational initiatives at the community level.

“Research shows that young people who start drinking before the age of 15 are five times more likely to have alcohol-related problems later in life,” said acting surgeon general Kenneth Moritsugu, in a statement. “Too many Americans consider underage drinking a rite of passage to adulthood.”

The report, developed with the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, said there are 11 million underage drinkers in the U.S., and more than 7 million “binge drinkers.”

The Distilled Spirits Council issued a statement in support of the call to action, noting that “the council and its member companies believe any amount of underage drinking is too much, and all interested parties need to continue to work together to stop illegal access to alcohol by youth.”

The council stressed its efforts to combat underage drinking, such as its Century Council initiative, which in tandem with the Federal Trade Commission launched the “We don’t serve teens” campaign to remind adults that providing underage drinkers with alcohol is illegal and irresponsible.

The call for curbs on alcohol marketing has intensified in recent months. In a study released late last year, the Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth at Georgetown University maintained that underage viewers’ exposure to alcohol advertising has exploded as spirits giants put more ad dollars on cable and spot TV [, Dec. 20].

Between 2001 and 2005, 1.4 million alcohol ads ran on TV at a cost of $4.7 billion, per CAMY. The number of ads spiked 34 percent during that five-year span, thanks in part to the fact that distilled spirits companies broke a 48-year-old self-imposed ban on TV advertising.