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Alcohol Ads Must Include Risks, Benefits

Companies that want to advertise a health benefit associated with drinking beer, wine or liquor would also have to warn about alcohol's health risks under rules announced Friday.

The Treasury Department's Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, which announced the regulations, said it was trying to balance free-speech rights with risks posed by excessive drinking. The new rules take effect in 90 days.

Long-standing regulations already prohibit false or misleading claims regarding the "curative or therapeutic effects" of an alcoholic beverage in an advertisement or on a label. Treasury and industry officials believe that few -- if any -- health claims are currently being made in advertisements or on labels for alcohol products.

Industry groups offered a muted response to the new regulations.

"While the Beer Institute believes that responsible and moderate consumption of beer and other malt beverages can be consistent with a healthy lifestyle for some people, our member companies have not used such information in their product labeling and advertising," said Jeff Becker, president of the Beer Institute.

In general, under the new rules, beer, wine and liquor companies can make a claim about a specific health benefit about their products on labels or in advertisements under limited circumstances.

The claim must be substantiated by scientific or medical evidence; information must be provided about the health risks associated with moderate and heavier levels of alcohol consumption; and information must be disclosed about the "categories of individuals" for whom any alcohol consumption poses risks.

All that information would have to be included on the label or in the advertisement.

Products would continue to use the current warnings that tell pregnant women about the risks of drinking and caution people that drinking may cause health problems and can impair one's ability to drive a car or operate machinery.

The Distilled Spirits Council of the United States appeared to welcome the new rule. "While there continues to be a misperception that only moderate wine consumption may confer potential health benefits, this rule underscores the fact that distilled spirits, beer and wine should be treated the same as a matter of public policy and scientific fact," spokeswoman Lisa Hawkins said.

In addition, the new rules say companies can provide "directional statements" -- such as, "for more information, talk to your doctor" -- in advertisements or on labels only if a health disclaimer is provided. The rule offers a disclaimer companies can use: "This statement should not encourage you to drink or to increase your alcohol consumption for health reasons."

Sam Kazman, general counsel for the Competitive Enterprise Institute, said that as a practical matter the new regulations are unworkable and raise free-speech violations. His nonprofit, public policy group had mounted a legal challenge to the old rules in this area.

"In some ways, it is worse then before," Kazman said. "Why should you have to jump through these hoops? It makes it virtually impossible to put anything on a label."

Kazman said his group may challenge the new rules in a federal court.

The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau has taken over certain duties of the old Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. That bureau was recently broken up, with its key firearms and explosives responsibilities moving to the Justice Department. Regulation and tax collection of alcohol and tobacco products are handled by Treasury.

Posted on aef.com: March 6, 2003


unknown, Associated Press. March 3, 2003

Copyright © 2003 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.