The effects of alcohol advertising

Julia Sherman, director of the Wisconsin Alcohol Policy Project at the University of Wisconsin Law School, addresses questions regarding the effects of pervasive alcohol advertisements on young people's drinking habits, at a public hearing Tuesday before the Lodi Plan Commission on a proposed ordinance to restrict alcohol and tobacco advertising.

LODI — A controversial proposal to restrict alcohol and tobacco advertising in Lodi won’t be considered by the Common Council, according to one of the measure’s strongest proponents, Mayor Paul Fisk.

“The votes aren’t there,” Fisk concluded, after the city’s Plan Commission on Tuesday heard presentations for and against the proposal, then voted unanimously not to recommend it to the council.

About 35 people attended the public hearing.

Many, such as local tavern owner Bill Hamre, said they agreed with Fisk that the problems of underage alcohol consumption in Lodi need to be addressed — but that restricting signs touting alcohol is not the way to accomplish that.

Hamre noted that his business has sponsored several youth sports teams, including providing uniforms emblazoned with the name of his business.

“I don’t think those kids started drinking because their shirt said ‘Willie’s Bar’ on it,” he said.

Fisk said he advocated changes in the city’s sign ordinance to address what he characterized as a pervasive culture of alcohol, in Lodi and throughout Wisconsin. He said excessive alcohol use, particularly among people younger than the legal drinking age of 21, costs Columbia County in excess of $86 million per year, for things such as law enforcement related to problem drinking.

“Penalties won’t work,” he said. “The culture has to change.”

Lodi Zoning Administrator Sarah Pittz said four changes were proposed to the city’s existing sign ordinance — three of them pertaining to banners with messages touting alcoholic beverages or tobacco, and the fourth pertaining to lighted signs. Among the proposed restrictions was to prohibit such advertising anywhere within 500 feet of a place frequented by children, such as a school, playground, library or day care center.

Pittz said that, to her knowledge, no other Wisconsin community has adopted measures similar to the restrictions proposed in Lodi.

Julia Sherman, coordinator of the Wisconsin Alcohol Policy Project at the University of Wisconsin Law School, praised the effort. “I want to thank you,” she said, “for trying to make Lodi a family-friendly community.”

But Ken Detmer of the Plan Commission said Prohibition didn’t stop alcohol abuse in the 1920s, and “I feel we’re getting people in an uproar over something that’s not real valid.”

Several people at the hearing noted that this would encompass almost everywhere within the Lodi city limits.

Among the places it would affect would be the Lodi Agricultural Fair. Fair Board Member Greg Hochstein said beer distributors often pay for banner signs at the fair.

“The fair is not rich by any means,” he said. “We struggle for everything we can get.”

Several people said they think parents and schools should take the lead in educating young people about the use and abuse of alcohol and other drugs.

But Steve Ricks, chairman of the Lodi Community Action Council, said any efforts to address the use of drugs such as heroin in Lodi must include addressing harmful uses of alcohol, such as underage drinking and binge drinking.

“It doesn’t start with heroin or marijuana or cocaine,” he said. “It starts with the drug that’s easiest to get — the one that’s found in our cabinets.”

The pervasiveness of alcohol advertisements, Ricks said, leads young people to associate liquor consumption with fun or stress relief.

Kathy Sellner, owner of Bill’s Towing near Lodi, said schools can do much more to make young people aware of the consequences of alcohol abuse — such as taking them on a tour of the impound lot at Bill’s, where they can see mangled, blood-covered wrecks of autos driven by people who were intoxicated.

Jon Plumer, president of the Lodi and Lake Wisconsin Chamber of Commerce, said he, too, favors efforts to discourage the abuse of alcohol, especially by young people. But the Chamber’s board unanimously opposes the proposed ordinance change, he said, because it would make it difficult for many area businesses to survive economically.

“This is an education thing. This is a parenting thing,” he said. “This is not primarily a business issue.”

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