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Surgeon General Renews Attack On Teen Drinking

April 13, 1992

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The surgeon general said Monday that alcohol is leading the nation’s youth into emergency rooms and jails, as she cited statistics ranging from date rape to drownings to make her case.

It’s part of a crusade that Surgeon General Antonia Novello has been on for months, and the alcohol industry was clearly irritated after her news conference.

Jeff Becker, a spokesman for the Beer Institute, said the industry has been trying to get Novello to discuss the issue quietly.

″I think the answer was shown today,″ he said.

Novello cited figures to show the problems caused by young people abusing alcohol, including accidents, deaths, assaults, rapes, bad grades in school and dropouts.

She didn’t offer much that was new; even the statistics that she released were drawn from reports already published in newspapers, magazines and medical journals over the past 10 years.

Among the statistics:

- About a third of the youths committing serious crimes consumed alcohol just before the offense.

- More than 70 percent of teen suicides involved frequent use or alcohol or drugs.

- Alcohol is a factor in more than half of the rapes among college-age students; 55 percent of the alleged rapists and 53 percent of the victims were under the influence of alcohol at the time.

- Nearly 40 percent of drownings and 75 percent of fatal accidents with all-terrain vehicles involved use of alcohol.

″For every injury death, there are 16 hospitalizations and 381 injuries requiring medical care,″ she said.

She cited material published in a medical journal, the Journal of Counseling Psychology, in 1987 on alcohol’s role in rape. ″I was shocked by the data on date rape: Among high school female students, 18 percent - almost one in five - said that ’it was OK to force sex if the girl was drunk,‴ the surgeon general said.

She said some 350,000 children in the eighth grade are binge drinkers, and that the number climbs to 690,000 for 10th graders.

″Many of our college students seem to major in alcohol abuse,″ she said.

Just last month the surgeon general called on the alcohol industry to change its advertising, which she said glamorized drinking and played down its risks by showing people climbing mountains, racing cars or steering boats.

″Regarding alcohol advertising, I have had my meeting with the industry,″ the surgeon general said. ″I have asked them before, and I ask them again today to voluntarily eliminate ads whose principal appeal is to youth.″

Novello had a number of props: beer cans, slides, and advertising boards. Among the corporate culprits she cited was Budweiser, which in one campaign used a cartoon character.

″I deplore ads that use cartoon characters to portray such risky activities,″ she said.

Budweiser’s cartoon character, Bud Man, was used for one summertime campaign in the late 1960s and hasn’t seen active duty since, said Joe Castellano, vice president for consumer awareness and education of Anheuser- Busch Inc., maker of Budweiser.

One other advertising campaign, which featured the dog, Spuds MacKenzie, was criticized for its possible appeal to kids, Castellano said. Spuds, the debonaire dog, has been out of work for three years.

″A lot of it had to do with the cycle of advertising,″ Castellano said. ″It was getting worn out. It had played its course.″

Her attacks on alcohol and tobacco advertising have not been warmly embraced by the White House. While saying that Novello speaks for the administration, presidential spokesman Marlin Fitzwater said last month that ″we generally stay away from intrusion in marketplace decisions.″

Becker said that there was no proof that advertising played a role in underage drinking and that there are other underlying causes of the problem that ought to be dealt with.

″You don’t do that by taking beer ads off the air,″ he said.

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