ALCOHOL: Possible Inclusion in Anti-Drug Ads Creates Stir
An amendment that would include underage drinking in the federal government's efforts to prevent drug abuse by children has encountered heavy opposition from the beer industry, certain members of Congress and the White House's Office of National Drug Control Policy. Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA), the amendment's sponsor, notes that while the government will spend $195 million this year educating adolescents on the dangers of illicit drugs, beer is still the drug of choice among most teenagers. Co-sponsor Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA) said, "You're finding more young people dying of alcohol-related problems than of drugs." But Rep. Anne Northup (R-KY), the amendment's chief opponent, said, "I think everybody appreciates Ms. Roybal-Allard's concern [but] there are a number of people that believe that drugs are unique and we shouldn't confuse the messages and diminish them. The message about drugs is: Don't ever do it, not at any age and type. That is not the message about alcohol, just like it's not the message about sex." Amendment supporters point out $38,000 in donations from the alcohol and beer industry to Northup in 1997 and 1998. But she responded, "I've seen this tactic a lot where anybody who's against anything, the first thing people do is pull your campaign contributions. That way you don't have to have a conversation about the quality of the discussion." Tamara Tyrrell, director of public affairs for the National Beer Wholesalers' Association, said the amendment "is not the proper way to solve the problem" of underage drinking, and noted that beer wholesalers already spend thousands of dollars on educational advertising. She said, "We feel that the drug czar should be focused on illegal drugs and alcohol is a legal product and, when consumed responsibly, it has even healthy benefits for certain people." Stephen Dnistrian, spokesperson for the Partnership for a Drug-Free America, added, "You can't simply assume that the antidrug campaign can be widened to include something as huge as underage drinking."
From the Czar's Palace
Robert Weiner, spokesperson for Barry McCaffrey, said, "We are neither endorsing nor opposing the proposal for inclusion of alcohol in the media campaign." The New York Times reports that McCaffrey did say in February that alcohol is "the biggest drug abuse problem for adolescents and it's linked to the use of other, illegal drugs." But in March, he told a House Appropriations subcommittee that as the Office of National Drug Control Policy is only charged with "combating controlled substances," he lacked the authority to spend federal money on alcohol programs. Charles Blanchard, McCaffrey's chief counsel, said, "Even if we were given the authority, we wouldn't immediately include alcohol," as it might confuse the message of the drug campaign and then "neither message would punch through" (Wren, 5/31).