By Published on .

WASHINGTON-In the end, venerable Sen. Strom Thurmond (R., S.C.) was forced to acknowledge what the advertising, media and alcohol industries had known for a while-the 91-year-old lawmaker couldn't muster enough votes to pass his proposal to require health warnings in beer, wine and spirits ads.

That was the simplest explanation of why Sen. Thurmond pulledhis legislation from last week's docket of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science & Transportation shortly before the 20-member panel was to vote. And while it's technically possible Sen. Thurmond could try to revive the measure this year, it's highly unlikely, given the absence of committee votes, business opposition and a crowded congressional calendar.

It was testimony to the influence wielded by Sen. Thurmond that industry lobbyists, though certain they had the votes to kill the bill, nevertheless remained nervous up to the end that he might pull a last-minute rabbit from his hat.

"Maybe he knows something we don't?" said Dan Jaffe, exec VP at the Association of National Advertisers, when the bill was still on the committee's schedule. "Maybe he's going to change the bill again, or maybe he wants to put a spotlight on the [committee] members to find out where his support is and is not. But by our count, he clearly loses."

Likewise, Jeff Becker, VP-alcohol issues for the Beer Institute, said his nose count showed Sen. Thurmond falling as many as four votes short.

"Why he's pushing for a vote is the $64,000 question," Mr. Becker said. "Maybe he just wants to get a vote and then try and get it to the [Senate] floor."

The explanation, said the president of an industry group with a major stake in the bill, was pressure from health and consumer groups that supported the bill and helped Sen. Thurmond craft it.

"There were some groups that were legitimately concerned about the effects of alcohol, but there were also some groups in there that are flat out prohibitionist," the trade association president said. "And they were pushing him for a vote because they wanted to get something on the record; this would have been the first time ever that this would have been voted on.

"Then they could go out and raise money for their causes and point to the [Senate] committee vote as evidence of how close they were to getting it passed and how a little more [financial] support might tip the balance the next time."

But if there was a time for the bill, it was last week.

Sen. Thurmond had support from the chairman of the Senate committee, Ernest Hollings (D., S.C.), and universal sympathy-Sen. Thurmond's daughter was killed last year by a drunken driver in Columbia, S.C.

But Sen. Thurmond couldn't overcome the intense lobbying of the National Association of Broadcasters, American Advertising Federation, American Association of Advertising Agencies and a slew of other business groups that opposed mandatory health warnings in TV, radio, print and outdoor ads for beer, wine and spirits.

NAB President Eddie Fritts had argued that beer advertising would flee televised sports if its commercials, especially the 15-second variety, had to devote a significant percentage of time to a message warning consumers of the dangers of alcohol.

Most Popular
In this article: