Beer has become the nation's most serious alcohol problem - and stiffer regulations are needed to control its sale, according to a spokesman for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Dr. Richard P. Lindsay, director of church public communications and special affairs, told the annual meeting of the American Council on Alcohol Problems that Americans now annually drink 24.1 gallons of beer for each member of the population."That's more than the per capita consumption of fruit juices, drink mixes, wine and distilled spirits combined," he said.

And snappy TV ads and campaigns to seemingly make beer an essential part of sports almost make people forget that "one shot of whiskey, one glass of wine and one can of beer all contain the same amount of alcohol," Lindsay said.

He said maybe the quickest, most effective way to control the "rampant consumption, widespread availability and epidemic problems" of beer would be for local governments and sports teams to more stiffly regulate beer sales.

For example, Lindsay said, the San Francisco Giants recently banned all beer sales in Candlestick Park. Although it cost the team $600,000 in lost beer sales, the team reported it sold more non-alcoholic concessions, reduced alcohol-related security problems and made families feel safer about coming to the park. The team said 90 percent of the feedback it received was positive.

In Santa Cruz, Calif., Lindsay said, drinking on the beaches was resulting in numerous brawls and even riots. So officials began enforcing an old "alcohol-free" beach ordinance. "The number of brawls on one beach went down from 41 to 6, allowing lifeguards more time to do their jobs."

Lindsay also praised the efforts of the roughly 10 percent of California cities that have passed ordinances prohibiting the sale of alcohol in gas stations. "This minority of legislative bodies clearly grasped the potential tragic consequences of selling booze and gasoline in one location."

He said the social cost of alcohol abuse - and half of all alcohol sold in the country is in the form of beer - is $120 billion. About $70 billion of that is from reduced productivity and lost employment, $18 billion from mortality, $15 billion in health-care costs, $9 billion in increased vehicle crashes and crime and $4 billion from costs to crime victims and incarceration.

Lindsay also attacked beer advertising campaigns - especially because they bombard youths who cannot legally buy or consume their product.

He said a study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic safety showed "children between the ages of 2 and 18 in this nation view approximately 100,000 television beer commercials. This is also the period in which social learning is most intense and the individual most easily influenced."

The study concludes that such advertising creates the view "that to be a real man in American culture - and accepted among other men - one must drink beer. . . . In our view, this is a powerful, distorted and dangerous message to broadcast to young people."