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September 21, 2004

Guest Editorial: Institutional Responsibility Needed to Curb Alcohol Marketing at Colleges

By Toben F. Nelson, Asst. Director, College Alcohol Studies, Harvard School of Public Health

Mr. Nelson has written a rebuttal of a guest editorial from the Virginia Tech student newspaper—Collegiate Times.com--that was reprinted in College Athletics Clips on 9-14-04.

The Collegiate Times.com editorial ("College athletics must retain alcohol advertising revenues”) presented a case for the abandonment of efforts to ban alcohol advertising and promotion on college campuses. The Collegiate Times.com editorial can be found at the bottom of the Harvard School of Public Health rebuttal below.

This rebuttal from the Harvard School of Public Health has been written exclusively for College Athletics Clips.com. This is the latest in a continuing series of efforts by Clips to present both sides of the issues.

A recent Virginia Tech University Collegiate Times.com editorial in favor of abandoning efforts to curb drinking on their college campus ("College athletics must retain alcohol advertising revenues," 9-9-04) was so entertaining, Homer Simpson could have written it.

Yet, the piece was not totally without merit. It does offer some thought-provoking ideas. Readers of the article should consider whether colleges and government are responsible for providing safe and thriving environments that encourage learning and academic achievement. The author implies that colleges should not only allow commercial interests to prey on their students, but should actively exploit students for profit, while the student is left to fend for him or herself.

To extend that argument, let's consider whether colleges should place cigarette vending machines in dormitories. Perhaps, instead of computers in student rooms, they could offer unlimited, pay-per-view movies and video game access? And, while at it, why not put roulette and slot machines in the hallways between classrooms as an additional revenue source?

It is worth considering the mission and values of a university. I would suggest that colleges are charged with educating young adults. Unfortunately, things happen on college campuses that are inconsistent with institutional goals and missions. Promoting heavy drinking is one of them, and promoting drinking through college athletics is another. The concept of "responsibility" also applies to institutions.

Despite what the author suggests, policies and rules are effective means of promoting collective values. Research from the Harvard School of Public Health College Alcohol Study has found that many policies that limit the exposure of students to alcohol result in lower rates of heavy drinking and related harms. If they weren't effective, commercial interests wouldn't spend so much money and effort fighting them.

Entertaining parodies on college student drinking are fun, but we should also remember that this is a serious issue. It is possible to stop accepting dangerous alcohol abuse and the negative social and health consequences it causes as a routine part of higher education.

College newspapers could use their editorial voice to challenge basic assumptions about student drinking, rather than defending the status quo. If we don't try to promote a healthy college environment and reject the notion that colleges can't or shouldn't enact responsible policies, we will have a society of college-educated Homer Simpsons.

NOTE: Any and all views, thoughts, opinions, advocacies and agendas as stated in this article are entirely those of the author, and not College Athletics Clips.




Editorial: College athletics must retain alcohol advertising revenues

Please note: This is an editorial of 9-9-04 reprinted from www.collegiatetimes.com It is printed in its entirety.

Alcohol has a certain presence in the collegiate sports world. For many spectators, the pre and post-game tailgates would be grounded ships without the lubricating influence of alcohol. Such fans would quickly protest dry tailgates, for if hotdogs and chili are their staple food, beer is their water of life.

So why do political forces in this nation continuously fail to recognize and accept that alcohol consumption is a well-established aspect of college life?

Along side activist groups including the Center for Science in the Public Interest and the Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth, Rep. Tom Osborne of Nebraska is leading a movement against alcohol advertising in collegiate sports. They intend to remove the industry from college athletics altogether, ending a $50 million a year advertising market, and cutting schools off from a highly lucrative source of revenue.

Osborne is driven by the fact that alcohol consumption is the leading mode of death on U.S. college campuses. Others concerned point out that college sports market to an underage consumer base. Neither are valid reasons to ban alcohol advertising, and such action must not be allowed.

College students are solely responsible for their own actions. The government cannot effectively oversee their choices concerning even legal consumption of alcohol, and should not attempt to do so. If college is to be the lesson in responsibility that it is lauded to be, then the government must resign itself to the individual student’s learning curve. Most students will pass this particular test; some won’t and will pay dearly.

But advertising will have little to do with those who fail. Alcohol consumption is a long established social norm in college circles, and is independent of TV’s beer ads. As most college students will testify, the one most influential factor in drinking habits is social acceptance of gratuitous consumption – it is simply what is done. Osborne and those like-minded must realize that with or without alcohol advertising, the learning curve will remain the same.

Furthermore, removing collegiate alcohol ads will not eliminate an underage target market any more than it will affect student drinking habits. As long as professional sports advertising exists, minors as well as drinking age adults will continue to hear the call of the alcohol industry. Besides, the collegiate sports market extends beyond just teens and 20-somethings – it includes a nation of money spending adults. This is a market that neither colleges nor advertisers can afford to ignore.

Colleges cannot afford to ignore this market because they are no less than full fledged businesses, often earning tens of millions of dollars a year. Their athletic programs compete regularly with national professional circuits for market shares in viewing, merchandise and ads. It would place college sports programs at a competitive disadvantage and consequent financial loss to remove alcohol companies from potential clientele. Considering how tightly correlated academic success and power can be with athletic fame, schools absolutely must have every opportunity to effectively compete in the general sports world.

The NCAA must take action against this movement. In good faith, the sports association has already taken steps to prevent direct targeting of students by banning alcohol advertising in college stadiums. Little else of any effect can be done, and the college sports association should make that clear while explaining the economic necessity of alcohol advertising in broadcast media. The NCAA must protect college revenues for the sake of the success of college sports, and should attempt to silence this movement before it gains momentum.

This new anti alcohol enterprise is only one of many that have existed in our recent history. In many cases, they are politically very effective. But before succumbing once more to this effectiveness, our government must realize that no matter how much the it decides to legislate against alcohol, it will find that each new law is no more effective than the last. Prohibition proved to this nation that extremities fail, especially in law.

And extremity is the key issue. Alcohol problems will never end in this nation when the issue is treated with our traditional extreme philosophies. If the government is intent on solving this problem, then aggressive legislation is not the answer. The answer lies in household attitudes of the family or the individual. The government should focus more on encouraging moderation, rather than enforcing the extreme.


NOTE: Any and all views, thoughts, opinions and advocacies as stated in this article are those of collegiatetimes.com, and not College Athletics Clips.