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Big guns roll out against beer ads

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A national organization opposed to alcohol advertising is joining a Utah doctor's fight to stop Olympic sponsor Anheuser-Busch from using the 2002 Winter Games to promote beer drinking.

The California-based Center on Alcohol Advertising has posted information on its Web site about Dr. George Van Komen's efforts, described as resisting a "beer-soaked Winter Games in Salt Lake City."The site, (http://www.traumafdn.org/trauma/alcohol/ads/utah1.html), lists the goals of Van Komen's Utah Alcohol Policy Coalition, including limiting advertising by Anheuser-Busch during the Olympics.

Van Komen said it's the start of a national campaign against the St. Louis brewery, which paid some $50 million to make Budweiser the official beer of the 2002 Winter Games and U.S. Olympic teams.

"I'd like to make sure everyone recognizes this as a national health issue - just like tobacco," he said. "I see it as being a health issue rather than a religious issue."

The center's director, Laurie Leiber, said she's trying to protect the public. "That's how I approach it. I'm not a member of the Mormon Church. I do drink occasionally," she said.

Because the majority of Utahns belong to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which teaches abstinence from drinking alcohol, they may not know what they're in for once Olympic-goers start imbibing, Leiber said.

"It's not a question of imposing morality," she said. "It's protecting, to a large extent, those who are innocent." They'll potentially be exposed to everything from violence to "having someone barf on their shoes."

The center is affiliated with the Trauma Foundation at San Francisco General Hospital and has helped Van Komen, a longtime anti-alcohol activist, in the past by supplying information.

Now, the center is actively soliciting support for the Utah Alcohol Policy Coalition. Visitors to the Internet site are invited to sign up for updates on the campaign.

"Utah needs your help! National support will help strengthen the Coalition's stance against Anheuser-Busch's aggressive advertising strategies," the site advises.

Van Komen said he hopes to build a national coalition over the next month or so. Besides the California center, he said he expects to enlist help from the national Mothers Against Drunk Driving organization.

Other assistance may come from his fellow doctors. Van Komen said his efforts attracted a lot of attention at an American Medical Association meeting on alcohol policy in Chicago last month.

A New Mexico consortium of several dozen public and private organizations concerned about alcohol issues is expected to vote next month on boycotting the 2002 Winter Games because of the beer sponsorship.

Van Komen said he knows not everyone welcomes his efforts. "I know SLOC would like to see me go away," he said. And an Anheuser-Busch representative suggested it'll be some time before the company's ready to meet with him.

The head of the joint marketing venture that sold the Anheuser-Busch sponsorship, U.S. Olympic Committee Deputy Secretary General John Krimsky, said the company is "going to be extremely sensitive to customs in Utah."

Utahns can expect to see signs of the Anheuser-Busch sponsorship within the next year or so, Krimsky said, even if Van Komen succeeds in making it a national issue.

"They have every right to do so," he said. "Obviously, Anheuser-Busch and the Olympics will continue to march. We will stay very much within the law and customs of Utah."

Besides limiting the company's advertising during the Games, Van Komen also wants to ban commercials for Budweiser featuring singing frogs and other cartoon-like characters he says are aimed at children.

He also wants to make sure there are no "beer tents" set up in Salt Lake City at the Olympics. In Atlanta, Budweiser was sold underneath a huge red tent in the city's Centennial Olympic Park downtown.

And Van Komen doesn't want the state's already tough liquor laws loosened for the Olympics. Some have suggested, for example, that private clubs be allowed to serve Games visitors without requiring them to become members.