Brouhaha Brews Over Malt Liquor : A coalition of 22 groups wants the alcohol content cut and ads aimed at minorities ended.

Times Staff Writer

A group of black, Latino and health officials on Wednesday demanded that brewers reduce the alcohol content of malt liquor and drop sexually suggestive marketing campaigns that pitch the products to minorities.

The demands are part of a long-running battle between brewers and critics who contend that advertising aimed at blacks and Latinos increases the relatively high levels of alcoholism and related ills suffered by those groups. Brewers have denied such claims.

"Brewers are showing a total lack of corporate responsibility when they market beer that is extra high in alcohol to the very people who already have the highest rates of alcohol problems--namely blacks and Latinos," said Carlos Molina, president of the American Public Health Assn.'s Latino Caucus, a member of the 22-group coalition that announced their demands at a Washington press conference.

Representatives of the groups were scheduled to meet with officials of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms about limiting malt liquor to 5% alcohol. The alcoholic content of malt liquor products ranges from from 5.6% to 10.9%, compared to 4.6% for regular beer, according to coalition figures.

Consumer Awareness an Issue

The coalition also attacked malt liquor advertising and promotional campaigns. As overall liquor sales have declined in the past decade, the alcoholic beverage industry has targeted Latino and black consumers as one way to increase sales. Industry critics have often complained that liquor ads often dominate the billboards in predominately minority communities, and black and Latino publications rely heavily on such advertising.

Coalition officials claim the malt liquor ads, which often feature black and Latino models, associate drinking with sexual success and boast of their alcoholic strength. The group cited billboards for Pabst's English 800 that feature black and Latino models wearing only tiny bikinis.

"The war on drugs is doomed to failure when slick ads for Colt 45 and other malt liquors tell young men that drinking is the key to fun and sexual success," said Dr. Walter Faggett, acting director of substance abuse programs at D.C. General Hospital in Washington.

In response, the Beer Institute, a trade organization, said there is no evidence that ads cause alcohol abuse and there is "nothing at all unusual or sinister" about brewers tailoring an ad campaign to a particular market.

The institute said that including minorities in ads has a "positive impact on the community," and that the industry is demonstrating its commitment to minorities with contributions to the United Negro College Fund and other programs.

Industry officials say halting malt liquor advertising is not the answer to solving alcohol abuse.

"Advertising does not cause abuse, and restricting advertising and marketing will not end abuse," said Stephen J. Burrows, a vice president at Anheuser-Busch, which makes King Cobra and Elephant malt liquors. "Rather, the answers to alcohol abuse in all communities--including black and Hispanic communities--will be found in consumer education and awareness."

"They think if they get rid of malt liquor and stop the advertising, the world will be cured," said Richard Evans, editor of Beverage Beacon, a trade publication. "I'm sorry, but there is no one solution."

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