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FTC toasts 'alcopop' marketers

A Federal Trade Commission study released Tuesday found "no evidence" that
advertisers of flavored malt beverages -- FMBs or so-called alcopops or
malternatives -- target underaged consumers and said alcohol marketers have
significantly improved self-regulation, implementing regulations suggested in a
1999 FTC report.

Not surprisingly, that conclusion was welcomed by Jeff Becker, president of
the Beer Institute.

"We are encouraged that the FTC recognizes that brewers plan and execute
their advertising and marketing campaigns in a responsible manner," Becker said
Tuesday in a prepared statement.

The FTC report is based on a study of the marketing and advertising of nine
major brands.

The FTC found improvement in placement standards and in the adoption of
external review.

Although the report found that the alcohol marketers were not targeting
underaged drinkers, it did concede that the advertising "may have a 'spillover'
effect [it wasn't clear whether the pun was intended] on teens, because themes
that appeal to younger, of-age consumers also appeal to underage consumers."

The report was issued in response to hearings presided over by vocal alcohol-ad critic Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.). Wolf, joined by Mothers Against Drunk
Driving and the Center for Science in the Public Interest, which have pushed for
stricter controls on alcopop ads.

The CSPI’s George Hacker, director of the Alcohol Policies Project, said the
study misses the point. "We think it is irrelevant what the industry intends,"
he said, pointing to the "spillover" concession.

The study patted producers on the back for meeting a "puny" 50% placement
target -- in which at least 50% of the audience for an alcohol ad is over 21 --
while conceding that the ads reach a substantial number of young people with themes
attractive to minors,

The study’s big weakness, Hacker said, is that it goes no further than to
parrot the industry’s own submission. There is precious little independent
analysis. Hacker is looking for some help from another report to Congress.

Legislators were being briefed Tuesday on a congressionally commissioned
National Academy of Sciences report, to be released later that afternoon,
evaluating ways to reduce underaged drinking.

The two studies could butt heads on the alcohol-marketing issue.

"We believe that there will be a substantial amount of guidance in that NAS
report about effective policies, practices and programs," Hacker said, perhaps including
stronger placement standards for alcohol ads.