By L.A. Williams, Correspondent
Christian Action League
CHARLOTTE — Parents in Charlotte preferring to limit their children’s exposure to alcohol advertisements may soon have to choose between viewing the ads and using public transportation.
The Metropolitan Transit Commission’s June vote to accept alcohol ads for the outside of buses and trains angered many members of the Charlotte City Council, who are calling for a policy reversal. But Charlotte Area Transit System (CATS) officials told the media that the ads have been reviewed by the city legal department and the ABC board to make sure they are not “undignified, immodest or in bad taste” and that they will all include the phrase “drink responsibly.”
“While we appreciate the admonition, the bottom line is that city property is no place for alcohol advertising, and turning buses and trains into rolling billboards for booze is doing a disservice to all area residents, especially youth,” said the Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League.
According to a WFAE report, CATS already has a policy that prohibits ads that would be unsuitable for children.
“Exactly which alcohol ads are suitable for children, we’d like to know?” said Dr. Creech, pointing out well-documented evidence that youth are particularly susceptible to alcohol marketing.
“Quite simply, the more ads kids see, the more likely they are to drink and to drink to excess,” according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. The Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth reports that while parents and peers influence youth drinking, “research clearly indicates that alcohol advertising and marketing also have a significant effect by influencing youth and adult expectations and attitudes, and helping to create an environment that promotes underage drinking.”
An estimated 20 percent of CATS riders are under the legal drinking age of 21. Youth in grades K-12 get discounted fares, and kids under 5 ride free with an adult.
The ads, which CATS says could generate up to $600,000 a year, will put the city in the company of New York and Chicago, the only other major public transit systems that allow alcohol ads, according to Alcohol Justice. The California-based watchdog organization released a study in 2008 showing that 75 percent of public transit agencies prohibit the ads, including those in Los Angeles, Philadelphia and the San Francisco Bay area. The Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority just banned alcohol ads beginning July 1.
“Charlotte is definitely going in the wrong direction by welcoming these ads at a time when other large cities are realizing the harm that can be done and halting them,” said Dr. Creech. “Cities should promote behaviors that enhance the public health, not something like alcohol, that takes a huge toll.”
Ironically, according the Charlotte Observer, the new CATS policy would allow a bus to be covered with a Budweiser ad, but would ban a Mothers Against Drunk Driving chapter from purchasing an ad opposing drunken driving. That’s because the transit system accepts only “commercial” advertising in an effort to steer clear of non-profits and religious or political messages.
“So, let me get this straight, an ad with a huge bottle of beer is welcome as long as it includes a small ‘drink responsibly’ warning, but an ad with the goal of reminding folks not to drink and drive is out of the question?” Dr. Creech asked. “Apparently, you don’t even have to drink alcohol for it to affect your ability to reason. You just need to be on a board approving alcohol ads.”
CATS said two six-month contracts for alcohol ads have already been signed, and the ads may start appearing this weekend.