A workshop on drunken driving convened by Surgeon General C. Everett Koop on Friday called for tax increases and advertising restrictions on alcohol in an effort to discourage consumption.
Koop told the panelists at the close of a three-day meeting that his office has little money or power to implement the recommendations, but he promised to use his personal standing to give the inch-think packet of suggestions the widest possible publicity.At the same time he vowed to steer toward middle ground.
"I intend to ignore those who would lynch or execute a first offender in drunk driving just as I will ignore those who would say it has not yet been proven that alcohol is responsible for impaired driving," Koop told the workshop, which greeted his appearance with a standing ovation.
"I intend to pursue whatever leadership role I may have between these two extremes as I have with other issues and to transmit to that leadership whatever energy, enthusiasm and credibility I have in this war against impaired driving."
While stopping short of urging an outright ban of beer, wine and liquor advertising, the panel said such ads should not be allowed on college campuses "since a high proportion of audience reached is under the legal drinking age."
It also called for:
-Elimination of alcohol advertising and promotion and sponsorship of public events where the majority of the audience is under the legal drinking age.
-Elimination of advertising that portrays activities that are combined with alcohol use.
-Banning sponsorship of athletic events by the alcohol beverage industry.
-Blocking the use of celebrities who have a strong appeal to young people in alcohol advertising and promotion.
-Requiring that the warning labels Congress recently voted to require on alcoholic containers also be required to appear clearly and conspicuously in all alcohol ads.
The section on alcohol taxes did not recommend specific increases to Congress and state legislators, but said the rates should be equalized among beer, wine and distilled spirits and that the excise taxes should be set at a level high enough to catch up with inflation for the past 18 years.
It said the resulting rates should then be indexed to the Consumer Price Index so taxes would go up automatically along with inflation.
The section on advertising was among the most controversial, in part because the National Association of Broadcasters and the advertising industry had declined to participate in the workshop, claiming it was stacked against advertisers' interests.
"In fact, the research the ad industry provided the panel demonstrates that there is no existing evidence that links advertising and alcohol abuse," said Howard Bell, president of the American Advertising Federation in a statement Friday.
"At best, this workshop is designed to politicize the emotional tragedy of drunk driving," NAB President Edward O. Fritts wrote Koop last month. "At worst, it is a total abuse of the policy-setting process."
Koop lashed back in his closing remarks Friday.
"I wanted everyone to hear the NAB's point of view not only because broadcasters are very influential, but because they also have so much at stake in this issue," he said. He said he felt the criticism of the workshop was unfair and said he was "taken aback" by what he called Fritts' "unfortunate choice of words."
Noting that he has held more than a dozen workshops on a variety of issues ranging from child abuse to organ transplant policy to children with AIDS, Koop said: "None of these workshops was called to politicize an emotional tragedy, and all of these workshops contributed significantly to the policy-making procedures of this administration, as I am sure this one will do."