Winery's plan for health ads blasted U.S. surgeon general says claims of benefits to the heart are misleading

U.S. Surgeon General Antonia Novello has blasted plans by a California winery to tout the purported benefits to the heart of drinking moderate amounts of red wine.

Ms. Novello told people at a conference on drug abuse at the Baltimore Convention Center yesterday that the ads -- approved by the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms last month -- contain incomplete and misleading information. She called on the wine industry to refrain from using the ads, which would be placed on the necks of wine bottles.


A spokeswoman for the winery, Beringer Vineyard, said later that it did not consider the "neckhanger" ads misleading but that it was "reconsidering" its decision to use them because of similar criticisms from health and consumer groups.

"We're trying to be able to do it. But at this point, I'm not sure we're going to," said Mora Cronin, director of public relations for Beringer, a leading Napa Valley winery that is a subsidiary of international food giant Nestle Enterprises Inc.


The ads consist solely of excerpts from a report that aired on "60 Minutes" last November. The excerpts appear under the heading "In Case You Missed '60 Minutes' on CBS -- Red Wine and Health."

The program examined the "French Paradox" -- the relatively low rate of coronary disease among the French, who ingest a high cholesterol diet. It concluded that moderate amounts of alcohol, and particularly red wine, apparently reduce the risk of heart disease. The wine apparently does this, according to the report and other studies, by flushing fatty deposits that clog arteries off small blood cells called platelets.

The excerpt quotes a physician who cites the "tremendous problems of alcohol abuse" but says more modest amounts may protect the heart "by decreasing the stickiness of your platelets."

Jack Killorin, spokesman for the federal bureau, which regulates alcohol advertising and labeling, said that the law prohibits misleading claims but that the agency felt Beringer's proposed ad was not inaccurate. "We saw it to be a relatively balanced statement of what was known," he said.

Surgeon General Novello, who has made alcohol advertising and underage drinking a central point of her 2 1/2 -year tenure as the country's leading health officer, complained in her speech and in a brief interview afterward that the excerpt failed to define moderate drinking.

She also said the ad failed to point out that any drinking was detrimental to pregnant or breast-feeding women, those on medication, and recovering alcoholics, among others.

"I would hope that their justifiable concerns about product tTC liability and their sense of responsibility will keep them from misusing this misleading neckhanger," she said.

The two-day conference on "Substance Abuse: A Team Approach to Prevention and Treatment" concludes today.