Lawmaker Promises Federal Action If NBC Runs Liquor Ads

July 7, 2008 - 7:03 PM

( - A Republican congressman from Virginia says he is prepared to introduce legislation that would ban hard-liquor advertising on network television if NBC goes ahead with its plan to air such ads.

Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) and Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-Calif.) sent a letter to General Electric (NBC's parent company) and NBC executives, urging them not to run distilled spirits ads.

NBC broke a long-time voluntary ban on hard liquor ads Saturday night, by running an ad for Smirnoff Vodka during "Saturday Night Live." Declining network ad revenues are behind the controversial move to bring hard-liquor ads back to the airwaves.

NBC officials said liquor ads would air only after the hour of 9 p.m., but that does not mollify the critics.

"We implore NBC to reverse its decision, reassert its social responsibility, and put back into place its self-regulated ban on liquor advertising," wrote Reps. Wolf and Roybal-Allard in their letter to network executives.

Wolf told a Capitol Hill press conference that he hopes Congress will not have to become involved in the matter. But, he said, "Congress has a responsibility to protect the public interest and the public airwaves."

Roybal-Allard said, "NBC's decision is particularly irresponsible in light of the fact that, in this country today, over 10 million children under the age of 21 consume alcohol illegally. Running liquor ads on television will only increase the appeal of drinking alcohol for young people." asked Wolf if the Federal Communications Commission should take action on the matter instead of Congress. Wolf said he has sent a letter to the FCC about the matter, adding, "We're getting a whole range of options together in regards to legislation."
The time has come

The Distilled Spirits Council of the United States commended NBC for airing the ads. The group says distilled spirits ads have been on cable television for the last five years with broad public acceptance.

"While NBC is the first network to air spirits ads, distilled spirits ads have aired over the last five years on more than 400 broadcast stations nationwide, 2000 radio stations, and numerous cable networks and systems representing 67 percent of all households," the council said in a statement.

The council believes that "alcohol is alcohol is alcohol."

"There is no justifiable reason to treat distilled spirits advertising differently than beer and wine advertising," the council said. It says 12 ounces of beer has the same amount of alcohol as 5 ounces of wine or 1.5 ounces of hard liquor (distilled spirits).

The council also said hard-liquor distillers are committed to responsible advertising, and it noted that the distilled spirits industry spends millions of dollars each year on programs to fight drunk driving and underage drinking.

NBC officials did not return numerous phone calls Thursday seeking further comment on the decision to start airing hard liquor ads.

However, NBC officials are on record as saying the network will take a responsible approach. It has asked hard liquor advertisers to air at least four months of public service ads that focus on "social responsibility" before their general product messages hit the airwaves.

Most television networks and local television stations have traditionally shied away from hard liquor ads because of criticism that such ads would encourage children to drink.