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HARD LESSONS ON CAMPUS

They banned cigarette ads from TV — why not alcohol?

June 13, 2010

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TRACY JAN’S excellent “Presidential sobriety check,’’ about Tufts University president Lawrence Bacow, should be a wake-up call to Massachusetts parents, educators, and legislators. Of course, the deadly binge-drinking behavior Bacow described is not limited to the Tufts and MIT campuses, or even more generally to college students. It is everywhere, and especially prevalent in young people of high school and college age, five or six years on either side of the legal drinking age of 21.

Why is this so?

The answer is the American culture of alcohol, which has largely been created by, and driven by, advertising.

Everywhere you look, you find advertisements for beer, wine, and hard liquor. Go to Fenway Park; watch a TV show involving young actors; note the huge bottle of vodka depicted on the kiosk in Harvard Square; buy a case of beer, and observe the New England Patriots logo on the package. (The link between alcohol and professional sports must be especially alluring.)

If advertising helped create a culture of smoking, and if banning tobacco ads from TV helped dampen that culture, then can’t the same be possible for the advertising of alcoholic beverages?

But to change our thinking about alcohol advertising would take a huge culture shift. Not possible, you say? We are free agents, and to drink is our choice?

Well, if advertising is not as effective as I am asserting it is, then why do corporations spend countless millions on such advertising?

It’s clear that the drinking death of Scott Krueger at MIT in 1997 still haunts Bacow, who was then a professor there.

It should haunt us all.

William J. Holinger
Cambridge
The writer is director of the secondary school program at Harvard Summer School.

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