Such ads will not be tolerated, BATF Director John Magaw told the annual convention of the National Beer Wholesalers Association in Boston last week.
"We have noticed some advertisements that have used the alcohol contents to promote the potency of certain beers," he said. "These ads concern me ... Let me assure you we do intend to address the messages being conveyed by these ads.
"I implore you-as responsible businessmen and businesswomen-to actively regulate your own industry's advertisement of your product."
He went on to say some ads use "symbols recognized only by youth gangs and terms to refer to illegal street drugs," and added: "I am confident that I don't need to point out to you the dangers to your very legitimate industry in linking the consumption of beer to the use of drugs."
Mr. Magaw's strength claim warning stemmed from new print ads for Miller Brewing Co.'s Lite Ice picturing the brand's bottle and using the new advertising slogan from Bates USA, New York, "If you get it, get it."
While the ad does not directly say anything about strength, BATF believes it represents a veiled illegal reference to the higher strength of Miller's ice beers compared with regular beers, a charge Miller denies. (BATF earlier forced Miller to change a spot for Molson Ice that it felt spent too much time on the label's 5.5% alcohol content statement.)
The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, in a case filed by Coors Brewing Co., last year tossed out federal laws barring brewers from displaying alcohol content on beer labels but declined to follow suit for advertising.
Mr. Magaw said the decision, awaiting Supreme Court review, allows the alcohol content to be displayed for informational, not promotional purposes.
Mr. Magaw said the agency is still investigating the gang symbols issue and is reviewing three or four ads. He said most of the ads involved are print or point of purchase.