Why this ban?

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In bringing smirnoff ads to tv, the first U.S. TV work for the brand, United Distillers & Vintners is continuing the liquor industry's campaign to gain access to U.S. broadcast media. Sooner or later, liquor brands will find a place in U.S. TV advertising. Only the pace of change is in question. Broadcasters and cable operators should constantly review their policies.

There are no laws against TV advertising for liquor, other than the general prohibition against unfair or deceptive practices that applies to all products. Spirits marketers dropped as outmoded their own self-regulatory ban on the use of TV and radio some years ago. While President Clinton, some Federal Communications Commission members and groups concerned about alcohol abuse called for investigations in 1997, government intervention seems unlikely providing liquor advertisers and broadcasters act prudently.

That leaves it up to TV station and cable system owners, who have the power and responsibility to pass on which product categories are advertised in their programming. Few have run liquor ads so far, citing concern that doing so would draw the ire of some viewers and groups. But are they also reluctant to brew up trouble with the beer advertisers that contribute so amply to their bottom line?

Is it really in the best interest of consumers to routinely run ads for beer while disdaining "harder" stuff? Any high-schooler studying for a driver's license can tell you a can of beer packs the same alcoholic punch as a shot of Smirnoff.

We're not suggesting broadcasters put Smirnoff vodka ads front and center on prime time. Each broadcaster can determine suitable dayparts (with the knowledge that critics and the Federal Trade Commission are concerned when significant numbers of kids are in the audience). And they can and should reject creative approaches that seem irresponsible.

Currently, the balance is hopelessly out of whack. The airwaves are populated with lizards, frogs and "Beer men" during high-profile sports programming, while spirits ads, if found at all, are banished to obscure stations during the wee hours. Whassup with that?

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