WASHINGTON — A coalition of children's health groups demanded Tuesday that America's beer sellers, which are using ghosts and goblins to promote their brews, stop trying to turn Halloween into a drinkers' holiday.
"Hands off Halloween," said Andrew McGuire, executive director of the Trauma Foundation, one of a dozen health, children's and religious groups urging beer makers to stop using Halloween symbols.
Budweiser, Coors and Miller are among the brands using skeletons, ghosts, black cats, jack-o'-lanterns and monster masks in their advertising. Some beer bottles sport Halloween-theme labels at this time of the year.
The advocacy groups say the advertising seems designed to appeal to little children as well as to teen-agers under the legal drinking age. As part of their argument, they cite an alarming number of drunk-driving incidents on Halloween, when many children are out in the streets.
The Beer Institute, a major trade organization, responded that Halloween is not exclusively a children's holiday and that there is nothing inappropriate about their use of seasonal imagery.
"Adults have celebrated Halloween long before beer companies began special promotions for the holiday," institute President Raymond McGrath said in a statement. "There is no evidence--whatsoever--that alcohol misuse increases on Halloween."
The Beer Institute's own marketing code frowns on advertising aimed at youth. For instance, brewers do not use Santa Claus to sell beer.
McGuire and other advocates, speaking at a Washington news conference, said the Halloween stickers, pennants, masks and glow-in-the-dark labels seem child-oriented and not in keeping with the voluntary marketing code. He asked the brewers to shun those images voluntarily.
The group is not contemplating a call for a boycott at this point, he said, but it will consider trying to persuade the Federal Trade Commission or another government agency to act if the voluntary appeals fail.
Tobacco foes have sought government help to fight cigarette sales images, notably the Joe Camel cartoon character, that they say appeal to children.
Becky Brown, president of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, said Halloween has joined New Year's Eve and Super Bowl Sunday as a major drinking day. More than 200 people died last Halloween weekend in alcohol-related traffic accidents, she said.
Brown said the driver who killed her son Marc 15 years ago was arrested on suspicion of drunk driving last Halloween and that he had a 3-year-old in the car.