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AMA confronts NBC booze policy

Opponents of NBC's decision to accept hard-liquor advertising applied more pressure last week to get the network to reverse course. But the network wasn't budging, insisting that it's approach to booze advertising is not only responsible but ought to be the industry standard.

The American Medical Association, which has called NBC's decision on allowing hard-liquor ads "shockingly irresponsible," took out a full-page ad in The New York Times
last Wednesday as part of its campaign to make NBC a booze-ad-free zone once again.

There was also more pressure from Capitol Hill last week. Thirteen congressmen led by Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) sent the network a letter urging it to reinstate the self-imposed ban that had been in place at the network for 50 years.

"We fear that your decision to air liquor ads will have a devastating impact on young people—faced with the temptation to drink alcohol—and their families," the letter stated.

Wolf wants to hold hearings on the issue but must go through House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Billy Tauzin (R-La.). Tauzin does intend to hold a hearing on liquor ads later this year, says spokesman Ken Johnson.

"Several members of Congress clearly are concerned about the issue," he said, "but there has been no hue and cry on Capitol Hill to do something."

In the Senate, Commerce Committee Chairman Fritz Hollings (D-S.C.) also said he is interested in holding a hearing.

By dropping the ban on liquor commercials, the AMA ad said, NBC is "guaranteeing that our children and teens will be bombarded with such advertising throughout their formative years."

Kids and teens watch roughly 1,000 hours of TV a year, and 25% of American families have a TV set in a child's bedroom, the AMA claimed.

An NBC spokeswoman says the network hopes its 19-point liquor-ad policy becomes the industry standard.

Under NBC's rules, a liquor advertiser can advertise only in later hours and must first present a series of ads that more or less warn about the effects of drinking.

NBC has one hard-liquor advertiser—Guinness UDV—which is still in the PSA phase of its campaign and hasn't yet aired a single ad for booze.

AMA Chairman-Elect Dr. Edward Hill said the group is not yet aggressively pressing Congress for legislative action on hard-liquor advertising. For the time being, he remains hopeful the organization can persuade NBC to reverse course.