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College Beer Ads Are Under Attack

Student drinking: Head of Cal State system urges campus presidents to seek an end to contracts in an attempt to stem alcohol abuse.

July 20, 2001|JEFF GOTTLIEB | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Cal State University Chancellor Charles Reed has asked the presidents of the 23 campuses to examine the colleges' contracts with liquor companies to see if they can be broken, or if their advertising messages can be changed to emphasize responsible drinking.

Reed made his comments at a news conference Thursday in Anaheim at a gathering of about 350 national college administrators learning the latest strategy to combat alcohol abuse on campus.

The National Conference on the Social Norms Model, sponsored by the Cal State system, says that scolding and threatening students do not work. Its recommended strategy emphasizes telling students that, contrary to popular belief, most of their peers are not drinking to excess. The strategy, in essence, tells students to act like their friends because they're really acting responsibly.

Reed said that when he headed the Florida state college system from 1985 through 1998, advertisements by companies producing alcoholic beverages were removed from campuses and athletic fields. There was no loss of money, he said, because soft-drink companies took up the space.

Alcohol companies, mainly those selling beer, pay colleges to allow their signs on campus athletic facilities. They also sponsor some campus events.

Miller Brewing Co., for example, pays Cal State Fullerton $17,500 a year in advertising fees. That pays for a sign on the scoreboard in Titan Stadium, two signs on the baseball field and two ads in the programs for baseball, women's softball and men's and women's basketball. Those program ads include one for the product and one pushing responsible drinking, said Paula Selleck, a Cal State Fullerton spokeswoman. The contract with Miller runs through 2005.

Last week, Cal State University trustees adopted one of the nation's most comprehensive guidelines on student drinking, which includes alcohol treatment programs, alcohol advisory boards and advertisements.

The university system began working on its new policy in December after a student at Chico State died of asphyxiation after downing a bottle of brandy, and two students at San Diego State nearly died from alcohol poisoning.

Edward Hammond, president of Fort Hays State University in Kansas, said schools there asked liquor companies to change the message on the signs from branding to ones stressing responsible drinking. The companies made the changes; those that didn't were easily replaced with no financial strain on the schools, he said.

Hammond likened the changing attitudes toward liquor advertising on campus to those involving tobacco, where the Marlboro man has all but been run off campus. "That's the kind of direction we're trying to ride off into," he said.

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