Group targets alcohol use by teens Higher taxes, tighter rules for ads will be advised

December 11, 1992|By Boston Globe

WASHINGTON -- Saying that the lives of thousands o teen-agers could be saved annually, a special commission on alcohol use has begun work on policy recommendations that will probably include a drastic increase in taxes on beer and wine, tighter restrictions on alcohol advertising and greater use of "sting" operations to catch merchants who sell liquor to minors.

"Every day young people die or have their lives ruined because of alcohol, even though its use is illegal," Joseph Brennan, the former governor of Maine and chairman of the panel, said yesterday.

"Our goal is to cut by at least 40 percent the number of tragedies due to alcohol-related car crashes, murders and suicides," Mr. Brennan said. Annually, there are now about 6,000 alcohol-related deaths of teen-agers.

While auto crashes remain the No. 1 killer of teen-agers, specialists in alcohol abuse prevention testified that drinking increasingly is a factor in violence among youths, date rape, teen-age pregnancy and the spread of AIDS. They said it also contributes to young people becoming dropouts and involved in crime.

Representatives of brewers and distillers testified that they consider underage drinking to be a "black eye on the alcohol industry," and said they were already deeply involved in promoting responsible drinking.

To pile more taxes on beer, they said, would unfairly punish the vast majority of the country's 80 million beer drinkers who impose little cost on society for their social drinking, said Jeff Becker of the Beer Institute.

The panel, which heard testimony yesterday, was appointed by Join Together, a Boston-based national organization that helps community efforts to stem substance abuse.

Panel members are to draft recommendations and present them to Congress, state legislatures and city councils.

Higher taxes, both to cut sales and to cover some of the societal costs associated with drinking, and advertising, particularly advertising directed at teen-agers, were the most controversial topics.

"They target young people because they're making a lot of money by doing it," said Alberta Tinsely-Williams, a Detroit activist who has worked to reduce the number of alcohol and tobacco billboards.

Advocacy groups such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving now say it is time to expose a double standard used by many parents when they condemn drug use while condoning alcohol.

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