Skip to content
Ralph Nader > In the Public Interest > Should Booze Bottles Bear Warning Labels?

Few situations are more pleasant to follow than a determined businessman on a public interest crusade. One such advocate is William N. Plymat, a co-founder and just retired Chairman of the Board of the Preferred Risk Mutual Insurance Company. From his offices in Des Moines, Iowa, Plymat is accelerating his long fight against al­coholism by needling Washington’s officialdom to do something about current liquor advertising. Plymat’s company only insures nondrinkers which reflects a strong belief that life insurers should be supportive of good health habits. Alcoho­lism has been around for so long, is promoted by so many politically influential companies, and is such a revenue producer fur governments that its horrible impact on millions of Americans, from the nine million alcoholics to their relatives and to highway victims, receives all too little attention and action.

As the number one drug problem, alcoholism ranks as a major health disaster in the country along with heart disease and cancer. Yet compare the forces arrayed against marijuana with those arrayed against alcohol and you would think the reverse is true.

THE LIQUOR INDUSTRY has learned many lessons since Prohibition days and one of them is subtlety. Their advertising links liquor with joy, with sex, with exciting social relationships and it is increasingly beamed to the young. Which is what particularly worries Plymat who cites a study that concludes: “. . . the younger the age at which an individual starts to ingest alcohol, the greater the chances that he will develop into a chronic alco­holic.”

What the liquor companies do not do is warn their customers, as the tobacco industry is now re­quired to do, about the health hazards of their products. Instead, their promotion continues to emphasize liquor’s alleged social delights and con­tinues to sell more and more.

Just consider these figures. In 1974, the average consumption of alcoholic beverages — beer, dis­tilled beverages and wine — in this country was 25 gallons per year for every man, woman and child. This amount exceeds the per capita consumption of milk or fruit juices or tea. Twenty-five gallons a year is almost half of the amount of water that people drink.

Plymat reasons that “if alcoholism is, for many, a drug addiction and advertising induces initial use, then its inducement, for those, leads to addic­tion.”

Medical specialists in chronic alcoholism be­lieve that pictorial advertising of alcoholic bever­ages binders the ability of alcoholics to resist the temptation to drink. The point here is that the withdrawal discomforts in the 6 to 10 hours follow­ing the cessation of drinking make the alcoholic highly susceptible to ads that talk about comfort and pleasure.

Plymat’s pleading with the liquor industry has borne little success. So now he wants government action in two directions. He has asked Congress to make alcoholic beverage advertising a nondeduct­ible expense for liquor companies. Seventy mem­bers of the House have signed up for such legisla­tion.

Second, he wants the Federal Trade Commission to establish tougher standards for liq­uor advertising that require some affirmative hazards and delete deceptive claims or impres­sions.

ASK PLYMAT FOR examples and he produces sheafs of liquor advertising as a warrant for his concern. One he particularly found offensive was an ad (apparently now withdrawn) for “Kickers” beamed to the young in general “milkshake” lan­guage.

Plymat was a State Senator until this year, so he knows well the political obstacles to his reforms. But he points to other countries where some action has been taken. The Norwegian Parliament has banned all alcoholic beverage advertising. Ontario and Quebec have initiated strong restraints of advertising copy to root out deception and false al­lures, along with restricting, the amount of such advertising. Sweden is requiring warnings that alcohol endangers health to go along with earlier regulations prohibiting endorsements by celeb­rities and showing people drinking.

Just last week, Gov. Jay S. Hammond of Alaska proposed tough anti-alcohol laws to reduce the number of crimes committed by intoxicated peo­ple. Two proposals would prohibit liquor price advertising and raise alcohol taxes.

Optimistic advocate that he is, William Plymat will be pleased to send interested readers informa­tion about alcoholism. You can write to him at 8527 University Avenue, Des Moines, Iowa 50311.