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Managers of the federal government's big anti-drug campaign are correct in trying to keep its focus on illegal drugs in the face of proposals in Congress and from some lobbying groups that it be expanded to include an additional target: underage drinking.

Diverting the focus in year two of a five-year program will muddy the answer to a critical question: Can marketing techniques, backed by multimillion-dollar budgets, reduce the numbers of people taking illegal drugs? The U.S. until now has not used mass advertising on this scale to tackle the drug problem, and the research on its effects will likely influence the course of drug education efforts for years to come.

Some members of Congress and special-interest groups concerned with underage drinking understandably are unhappy to be on the sidelines while millions are spent elsewhere. But their current tactic -- demanding a share of the anti-drug campaign's funds -- is not the answer.

What happens next depends on the course taken by anti-drinking groups and their supporters in Congress. Will it be confrontation? Or alliance building? The president of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, which has worked with alcoholic beverage marketers and the ad community in the past, has come out swinging at the ad- and media-industry supported Partnership for a Drug-Free America because it opposes diverting anti-drug funds to the underage-drinking issue.

Alcoholic beverage marketers want no part in an "anti-drug" campaign. But they nevertheless can't dodge the issue. Underage drinking is a stubborn, sometimes tragic problem, and for some it can lead to alcoholism and other forms of drug abuse. Most of these marketers contend they share these concerns; some have mounted their own campaigns. Many adpeople would support a targeted program that concentrated on young people and parents and did not demonize all use of alcoholic beverages. There's time to build an alliance on this issue without

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