Who Minds The Store

The U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) in the Department of the Treasury is the federal agency with responsibility for overseeing the alcohol industry. Its rules discourage advertising claims that are obscene or misleading, as well as those that associate athletic ability with drinking. Also, the ATF takes the position that ''unqualified health claims on products that pose increased health risks are deceptive.''

Alcoholic beverages sold in the United States have to carry a warning on the container that states: ''GOVERNMENT WARNING:

(1) According to the Surgeon General, women should not drink alcoholic beverages during pregnancy because of the risk of birth defects.

(2) Consumption of alcoholic beverages impairs your ability to drive a car or operate machinery, and may cause health problems. '

Until the 1990s, the alcohol content of beer could not be included on the labeling of the container or in any associated advertising. As a result of a suit by Adolph Coors Co., a federal court decision overturned this restriction on labeling, and so companies are permitted to label their beers and malt liquors with the alcohol content. Beer averages 5 percent alcohol, ales average 6 percent, malt liquors average 4.1 percent, wine 12 percent to 20 percent and distilled spirits from 40 percent (80 proof) to 50 percent (100 proof). Beer is usually sold in 12-ounce containers, whereas malt liquors are usually sold in 40-ounce bottles.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) also reviews advertising, with emphasis on instances of false or misleading ads. Neither the ATF nor FTC has been very aggressive in challenging ads that seem to be targeted to young drinkers or encourage heavy drinking.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the Department of Health and Human Services has no jurisdiction over alcohol advertising, with the exception of wines with less than 7 percent alcohol. Unlike pharmaceuticals, there is no mandate that labels or advertising materials for alcoholic products provide a listing of the risks/consequences, as well as the benefits. Americans regularly see ads, company logos, and billboards that encourage people to drink, but such advertising fails to provide information about the down side of drinking, especially excessive drinking.

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