Latino health workers Monday blasted a campaign by Miller Brewing Co. to recruit Spanish-speaking models to boost beer sales in markets, restaurants and liquor stores throughout Ventura County.
After advertising in a local Spanish-language newspaper, the Milwaukee-based brewer held auditions Monday in Ventura for women 21 and older interested in earning money promoting Miller products.
"Models earn $21 an hour," the advertisement read in Spanish. "There are many opportunities for people who like to work with the public."
But health professionals expressed concern about the recruitment campaign, contending that it targets a Latino community already plagued by high levels of drunk-driving arrests and alcohol-related health problems.
"They are irresponsibly promoting alcohol to a community that already has significant problems with alcohol," said Noelia Chavez, community development coordinator for El Concilio del Condado de Ventura, an Oxnard-based Latino advocacy group.
"Yet there is no sensitivity to the excessive amount of consumption and very serious problems being caused by this product," Chavez said. "They are using young Latinas as objects to sell their alcohol. That's very disturbing to see."
A Miller spokesman said Monday's recruitment effort is part of an ongoing campaign to pluck "marketing representatives" from a variety of ethnic communities and is not intended to target any specific ethnic group.
"We market to a diverse group of people who have a wide range of cultural and ethnic backgrounds," Public Relations Manager Scott Epstein said. "We want to make sure our programs are relevant and appropriate. In order to do that we want to make sure our representatives are diverse as well."
The models will greet customers at stores and encourage them to buy Miller products, Epstein said.
During the first hour of interviewing Monday, four applicants visited Miller's Ventura County sales agent, the Lagomarsino Distributing Co. Only one agreed to be interviewed briefly.
"I'm a model and I've come to interview," said Ethy Rivera of Ventura. "I don't know what the job is."
Epstein said the company also is involved in a variety of public education campaigns designed to promote responsible drinking.
"As a company we share the concerns expressed by many over the problems of alcohol abuse," Epstein said. "It's a complex issue. It can cause frustration."
Brewers have come under attack in recent years by activists who contend that shrewd alcohol advertising campaigns target minority communities. And critics say that an abundance of alcohol in ethnic neighborhoods exacerbate social problems.
Statistics compiled by El Concilio last year showed that of the 7,727 motorists arrested in 1990 for driving under the influence of alcohol in Ventura County, 41% were Latino. The county's population is 26.5% Latino.
In Oxnard, a city in which 54% of the population is Latino, 77% of the 1,193 motorists arrested for driving under the influence in 1991 were Latino.
A statewide study by a Cal State Northridge professor found that Latino men have a higher rate of alcohol-related premature deaths than men in the general population. The study also showed that Latinos are three times more likely to be in treatment for alcohol-related problems than Anglos.
"They've been targeting Latino barrios and ghettos for many years," said Lancaster resident Ray Chavira, a director of the Latino Council on Alcohol and Tobacco. "We're an easy population, we don't speak out and we don't vote. But we need to be sober to make our way through society and get our fair share of the American Dream."
Ventura County health workers said they aren't surprised by Miller's strategy of recruiting local models to promote its products.
"Obviously, there is no law against what they are doing," said Stephen Kaplan, director of the county's Department of Alcohol and Drug Programs. "The industry does an excellent job of promoting their product to certain groups. I think that's something a lot of folks are concerned about."
The use of Latina models to push beer sales locally is particularly disturbing to Linda Chaparro, a psychology professor at Oxnard College and president of the advisory board of Casa Latina, a recovery house. She said the campaign is aimed at young women as much as men.
"Up to this point, they know they've gotten everyone else and now they're tapping into new markets," Chaparro said. "They are using newer strategies to get at the market. They've done such a number on our community, I don't trust them at all."