Drug War Isn't on Target!

Drug War Isn't on Target!
Posted by FoM on June 08, 1999 at 06:16:00 PT
Source: SF Gate
IN HIS WAR AGAINST DRUGS, General Barry McCaffrey is outgunned by the political influence of special interest money that diverts attention from the gateway to teen drug problems, the drug most used and abused by adolescents -- alcohol.
McCaffrey has repeatedly gone on record saying that alcohol is the primary drug abused in this country and he has lamented his inability to make alcohol the centerpiece of his current $195 million anti-drug media campaign. Coming to his rescue, U.S. Representatives Lucille Roybal-Allard, D-- Calif., Frank Wolf, R-Va., have authored an amendment to the Treasury, Postal Service and Government Appropriations bill that would add alcohol to the media campaign. McCaffrey's lament apparently wasn't sincere. When the Roybal-Allard Wolf amendment was announced, the drug czar and the White House came out in opposition to alcohol being included in the campaign to unsell drugs to America's youth. The reason: the powerful alcohol and advertising lobbies. The two major opponents of the Roybal- Allard/Wolf amendment are the politically influential and well-connected National Beer Wholesalers Association and the San Francisco-based Wine Institute. Another opponent is the Partnership for a Drug Free America, a nonprofit organization comprised primarily of advertising professionals. Many of them work for the very ad firms that produce the alcohol advertising that the drug czar's media campaign would counterbalance, if it included alcohol counter-ads. The partnership, which was founded on alcohol, tobacco and pharmaceutical money, provides volunteers to produce the current ads on illegal drug use by teens. It claims that it would not be productive to produce a campaign that includes alcohol because alcohol is ``deeply ingrained in our culture'' and ``alcohol use is widely glamorized in movies, television and music.'' And, the alcohol industry spends as much as $3 billion a year putting positive alcohol messages in front of kids' faces. The partnership's position mirrors that of beer companies who hypocritically claim their ads have no effect on underage drinking. Its position conveniently ignores how effectively tobacco counter-ads have worked using hard-hitting messages that expose the tobacco industry and debunk its advertising images. It's predictable that the National Beer Wholesalers Association would oppose public health efforts to counteract youth- oriented beer ads that glorify alcohol. Wine ads on the other hand are, for the most part, responsible and not inviting to children. The Wine Institute's opposition is strange and unnecessary. Alcohol is a leading cause of death among young people. Thirty percent of twelfth graders report hazardous drinking, and youth who start drinking before age 15 are four times more likely to become ad dicted than those who begin at 21. Every day on average, 11,318 kids try alcohol for the first time, compared with 6,488 for marijuana; 2,786 for cocaine; and 386 for heroin. Our children will be the losers if corporate lobbies continue to undermine efforts to protect their health and safety. Lawmakers should just say no to special interests and make the well-being of the next generation their top priority. The first step should be to pass legislation that allows the war on teen drug use to combat its biggest enemy -- alcohol. Diana Conti is executive director of The Marin Institute for the Prevention of Alcohol and Other Drug Problems in San Rafael. 
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