CLINTON OFFERS LEGISLATION ON ALCOHOL AD WARNINGS: MOVE SEEN AS HELPING PLAN TO ACCEPT HEALTH CLAIMS FOR WINE

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The Clinton administration took less than a week to switch from "considering" alcohol ad health warnings to circulating legislative language. That language would require warnings on every TV, print, outdoor and Internet ad.

Treasury officials last week presented a draft of proposed legislation to Congress, seeking in part to mollify powerful Sen. Strom Thurmond (R., S.C.), who was angered over the department's Feb. 5 approval of health claims on wine labels.

The draft, according to an aide to Sen. Thurmond, incorporates language similar to the Sensible Advertising & Family Education bill that Sen. Thurmond and then-U.S. Rep. Joe Kennedy (D., Mass.) offered unsuccessfully in 1994, with the addition of Internet advertising.

EARLIER PLAN ROTATED WORDS

The 1994 proposal required seven warnings be rotated in ads, with one suggesting pregnant women not drink, another warning about underage sales, another stating that alcohol could be addictive and another saying "if you drink too much alcohol too fast, you can die."

That proposal put compliance authority at the Federal Trade Commission.

This new draft proposal offers no similar warning language, instead leaving both the exact wording and advertiser compliance to be determined by Treasury and its Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms.

BILL CONDEMNED

The SAFE bill drew widespread condemnation from industry groups, which warned in part that "ad warnings do not and will not work to stop alcohol" consumption.

The proposal was withdrawn after marketers agreed to do more to promote responsible drinking.

Some industry observers last week suggested the Treasury proposal would have little chance of success with a more heavily Republican Congress, less likely to regulate business, and suggested it was offered mainly to offset Sen. Thurmond's objections to the wine label changes.

John De Crosta, Sen. Thurmond's press secretary, however, said approval of ad warnings may be more likely this year.

"There is a much different attitude in Congress and America about this kind of product," he said citing "the trials and tribulations of the tobacco industry."

He also said Sen. Thurmond remains unswayed about the wine labels and is considering legislation to overturn that action.

"If Treasury's intention was sending it to the senator to placate him, that was poor judgment," Mr. De Crosta said. "The senator is very displeased with the [wine label] action and discouraged by the atmosphere that now exists at Treasury."

Liquor industry groups, as expected, condemned the ad warning proposal.

`THIS IS NOT NEEDED'

"This is not needed, not warranted and [is] a bureaucratic effort to expand [BATF's] base," said Fred Meister, president-CEO of the Distilled Spirits Council of the U.S. "It is not the province of BATF."

Mr. Meister said the current warnings on alcoholic beverages are supposed to be subject to change only if new scientific literature warrants the need. Treasury is proposing expanding warnings when there is "absolutely no news" indicating a need for a change.

He noted the latest scientific news indicates alcoholic beverages have some positive health effects on adults.

"We already face a dizzying array of laws and regulations in every facet of our business," said Jeff Becker, VP at the Beer Institute, "and we have defended the rights of brewers to advertise and will continue to do so in response to

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