The administration's renewal of interest in such a move was a surprise in the Treasury Department's Feb. 5 announcement giving vintners their first authority to make health-related claims for wines-and it quickly infuriated ad groups.
"We demonstrated how intrusive and interruptive the warnings were" the last time this subject came up, said Hal Shoup, exec VP of the American Association of Advertising Agencies.
"We think the [existing] warnings on labels do the job they are supposed to do," said a Miller Brewing Co. spokesman in voicing opposition to restrictions on ads.
`A NUMBER OF OPTIONS'
"Treasury will consider a number of options, including whether to require the government warning statement on alcohol beverage products be rotated among different messages and whether to require all alcohol advertisements to carry a government warning statement," said the federal agency.
"We are very serious about this," said Treasury General Counsel Edward S. Knight, in discussing the ad warnings. "We are very concerned about underage drinking."
New legislation was suggested as the main way to strengthen the agency's authority over labels and alcoholic beverage marketing.
Treasury officials said the new health statements for wine were approved only after vintners agreed to say consumers should consult a doctor or federal guidelines about health benefits.
The department is being sued by the Competitive Enterprise Institute, which contends its previous rejection of labels citing alcohol's health benefits violates commercial free speech.
Last week, the group said Treasury is still acting unconstitutionally by disallowing broader claims.
Sen. Strom Thurmond (R., S.C.) had complained to Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin and has threatened to introduce legislation to halt wine-benefit statements.
Wine industry officials expressed mixed feelings on the new government action.
Evan Goldstein, VP-public relations and new media for Seagram Chateau & Estate Wines, said he wasn't sure the health statement approved for vintners could fit on wine bottles' current labels.
"There's a lot of text that has to go on them as it is," Mr. Goldstein said.
John DeLuca, president of the Wine Institute, said discussion of advertising messages "is a subject matter we welcome.
"We don't want to be seen as a sin industry," he said.