New tax asked to pay for ads against drink


In an effort to curb under-age substance abuse, a gubernatorial commission recommended yesterday an increase in the state tax on alcoholic beverages to pay for advertisements that would counter ads that glamorize alcohol use.

The tax increase would be used to pay for production of slickly packaged public service announcements to compete with the million-dollar ad campaigns touting alcoholic beverages and to fund substance abuse treatment programs.

The Governor's Drug and Alcohol Abuse Commission also called for formation of a coalition of national, state and local groups concerned with under-age drinking to pressure advertisers.

Those were among nine recommendations in a report by the commission's prevention committee on the impact on teens of alcohol advertisements and the use of alcohol in TV programs and films. The report was made public yesterday.

Alcohol is "the No. 1 problem, the gateway drug, the most accessible drug, the drug advertised on billboards throughout the city," said Karen Evans, executive director of the Baltimore City Partnership for Drug-free Neighborhoods and a member of the commission.

Forty-four percent of 10th-graders and 53 percent of high school seniors reported using alcohol within the last 30 days, according to a 1990 state survey the report cited.

And again and again, studies showed that "advertising is one of the major influences on underage drinking," said Dave London, a member of the committee and a teacher at Loyola High School.

Billboards in inner-city neighborhoods that advertise alcoholic beverages -- and could influence African-American youths -- would be a particular concern of the coalition.

Other recommendations in the report include restriction of alcohol industry sponsorship of college events, elimination of alcohol ads on public transportation or in public facilities, guidelines for appropriate use of alcohol industry resources in local and state government programs, and media literacy education in elementary schools.

In media literacy programs, school children would be taught to be critical of ads and use of alcohol in television programs.

A member of the alcohol industry said that drinking by youths under age 21 has actually decreased in the past 20 years and that advertising has a negligible influence.

"My initial reaction [to the report] is 'Here we go again' in the face of what is continuing evidence that advertisement doesn't affect teens and doesn't influence them to drink more," said Jeff Becker, vice president of alcohol issues for the Beer Institute, a trade association.

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