Washington Times

March 26, 1994, Saturday, Final Edition


LENGTH: 892 words

HEADLINE: Separating the froth from the freeze

BYLINE: James Bovard

March 3, 1994, was a great day in the annals of American paternalism. On
that day, Molson Brewing Co. announced that it was pulling its television ads
for Molson Ice Beer, bowing to a federal investigation of the ads' potential
criminality. The Molson brouhaha exemplifies why the federal government has far
too much power over commercial speech.

From 1935 until last year, the federal government banned beer makers from
noting their alcohol content on their labels, fearing this might produce
The Washington Times, March 26, 1994

"strength wars" among beer makers appealing to people's desire for the strongest
beer. (By contrast, wine and liquor makers are legally required to state their
alcohol content on labels.) An April 1993 federal court decision ended the
federal ban on mentioning alcohol content on beer labels but ruled that beer
makers could still be prohibited from advertising their beer on the basis of the
strength of its alcohol content.

Last month, Molson began television ads for its new Molson IceBeer. Ice
beers are the fastest-growing segment of beer sales. At the end of the ad, the
camera focused on the federally approved label, which notes that the alcohol
content is 5.6 percent. An announcer noted that Molson Ice is a "bolder" drink.

The Molson ad, which blanketed the airwaves during the Winter Olympics,
provoked an uproar.

The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms cracked down on Molson;
BATF spokesman Jack Killorin declared, "We have noted ... a certain prominence
of the alcohol content. We have concerns about how that is being used, and we
are investigating." BATF is acting as if it is a federal crime to show a
federally approved beer label in a television ad.
The Washington Times, March 26, 1994

According to BATF spokeswoman Susan McCarren, "There is no problem with
showing the label. It is the text that goes with the ad." Miss McCarren
indicated that the problem was that the announcer said Molson Ice was "bolder"
at the same time the bottle label was shown - thus possibly making people think
the beer apparently was being consumed because of its potency.

At a time when the ABC television network shows naked police-women's
derrieres in prime time, why should showing a beer bottle label be offensive?
At a time when rap groups fill the airwaves with obscenities, why should federal
regulators act as if "bold" is the most dangerous four-letter word in the
nation? At a time when most beer television ads look like they could be ads for
Hooters restaurants, what's not to like about the Molson Ice ad?

Most beer sold in the United States has between 3 percent and 5 percent
alcohol content. The fact that Molson Ice has 5.6 percent alcohol may have
created a suspicion of wrongdoing by the brewer. Yet, if someone was drinking
solely to get drunk, the person could drink malt liquor (with up to 8 percent or
9 percent alcohol), fortified wine (20 percent alcohol), or whiskey (40+ percent
alcohol). The idea that an extra 0.6 percent alcohol (compared to other beers)
could cause a stampede to Molson Ice vivifies the absurdity of current federal
alcohol policy.
The Washington Times, March 26, 1994

Federal restrictions on alcohol advertising could be undermining public
health. In April 1992, the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism
published an editorial in a newsletter that stated that "a growing body of
scientific research and other data that seems to provide evidence that lower
levels of drinking decrease the risk of death from coronary artery disease."
Yet, federal law prohibits alcohol advertising from containing any statement
indicating that alcohol "has curative or therapeutic effects if such statement
is untrue in any particular or tends to create a misleading impression."

BATF Deputy Director Daniel Black declared in 1992 that BATF holds "all
therapeutic claims regardless of their truthfulness to be inherently
misleading." BATF apparently views alcohol as a dangerous, quasi-poisonous
substance -even though federally funded research shows that alcohol taken in
moderate amounts can reduce the risk of heart attacks and strokes.

Allowing references to beer alcohol content in advertisements could also
help Americans become safer drivers. If one beer has 50 percent more alcohol
than another beer, the drinker should be made aware that he is more likely to
get arrested or to harm some other innocent driver if he has three Molson Ices
than if he has four or five light beers.
The Washington Times, March 26, 1994

Besides, even if someone is drinking beer to get drunk, the person will be
able to dull their consciousness with fewer beers if they are drinking Molson
Ice. And since the federal government continually warns people of the danger of
being overweight, any policy that decreases the number or size of American beer
bellies is in the national interest.

The Molson Ice controversy highlights the danger of granting federal
administrative agencies vague arbitrary powers. The censorial policies imposed
on beer advertisements will set precedents for expanded federal power over other
advertisements and activities. Rather than imposing gags on breweries, we
should impose a straitjacket on federal regulators.

James Bovard is the author of "Lost Rights: The Destruction of American
Liberty" (St. Martin's Press, April 1994).