Vice Squad
Monday, December 08, 2003
 
More on Alcohol Advertising Lawsuit


The Chicago Tribune published this op-ed today by Robert A. Levy
of the Cato Institute. The op-ed concerns the lawsuit that was
recently filed against some segments of the alcohol beverage
industry, on the grounds that they are targeting underage
consumers in their advertising. (Vice Squad's original post on
the filing is here
.) Levy is less than enamored of the lawsuit,
viewing it as the latest "legal travesty du jour" that has been
spurred by the outcome of the state suits against the tobacco
industry.

One issue is whether the plaintiffs are correct in their
contention that alcohol advertising is targeting the underage.
The industry got a boost from this September, 2003 report from
the FTC (cited in the Levy op-ed), that found improvements in
the alcohol industry's efforts to avoid targeting kids. The
Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth (CAMY) feels differently,
and took exception to the FTC report. CAMY's research indicates
a significant disjunction between wine advertisers on the one hand,
and beer and liquor advertisers on the other, such that wine ads
are considerably less likely to be viewed by underage drinkers
than are beer and spirits ads.

The Levy op-ed notes in passing the absurdity of our prohibition
of alcohol sales to 20-year olds, a position with which Vice
Squad is in accord
. The op-ed, however, is more enthusiastic
about free speech for commercial vice than is Vice Squad (or is
John Stuart Mill, for that matter); Vice Squad thinks that
sound vice control policies often should include advertising
controls
, though not prohibition of adult vice consumption. Nor
can Vice Squad fully endorse this claim from the op-ed: "The purpose
of ads for alcoholic beverages, like ads for vehicles, is to
encourage brand shifting, not to convert non-drinkers into
drinkers."

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