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Youths, area leaders rally to back bill banning alcohol ads on state property

Posted by Matt Rocheleau  January 26, 2012 06:13 PM

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(Matt Rocheleau for Boston.com)

Representing SAFE MA, Stacy Carruth, a community health specialist at the Regional Center for Healthy Communities (Metrowest) speaks about the bill in the Massachusetts legislature to ban alcohol advertisement on state property.

Dozens of young people joined legislative and medical leaders today in downtown Boston to rally support for a bill that would ban alcohol advertising on all state property.

State Representative Martin Walsh said he is "very confident" that House bill 851, which he is co-sponsoring, would pass the House and Senate and become a law by July 31. He has said he expects it would go into effect between six months to one year after that.

The movement gained a boost this week when the MBTA said that, beginning July 1, it would prohibit alcohol ads from from appearing on all of its property, including inside subway cars, trains and buses.

If the proposed law is approved, it would ban alcohol ads from running on other state property, including on billboards that sit on state property or on marketing space along state-owned buildings.

Many at today's rally outside the Park Street T station said they believe that public alcohol ads, particularly on public transit, contribute to teen drinking.

"I don't like the fact that every time I take the train or bus to school, alcohol ads are all I see," said Julia Roberto, a ninth-grader at Boston Latin School. "They're everywhere. They're in my face and I can't avoid them."

"The effects of alcohol ads on youth and underage drinking are well-documented, and yet Massachusetts still puts them out there," added Roberto, one of five members of a substance-abuse youth coalition that helped convince T administrators to stop allowing the ads.

Last month, Roberto and four of her high school-aged peers from the Allston-Brighton Substance Abuse Task Force made a presentation before state Transportation Secretary Richard A. Davey and the board of directors for the department that oversees the MBTA.

"When the kids came in to see me, they said, 'This is our school bus,' and we have tens of thousands of kids in the city and in the neighborhoods taking the MBTA to school each day," Davey told the State House News Service today.

Prior to that meeting, former Massachusetts governor Michael Dukakis e-mailed a letter to the board to say he supports a ban.

Over the past 20-plus Dukakis's wife, Kitty, has been in recovery and undergone treatment for drug and alcohol addiction.

The couple said today applauded the T's move, one they've backed for years. They strongly urged state lawmakers to cement the transit agency administration's decision by passing the proposed law.

"It's not an accident, it seems to us, that [alcohol advertisements] are principally in areas where kids and college students tend to be," Dukakis said by phone today from California. "We shouldn?t be using public transportation to advertise alcohol."

"I've been in recovery for a while and obviously when you have issues yourself you look at the broader picture," added Kitty Dukakis. "But you don't have to be a recovering alcoholic to want this to work. We all have to be in this together. It's for young people. They wouldn't be advertising if they weren't effective, right?"

According to a study published two years ago in the American Journal of Public Health, underage drinking cost Massachusetts approximately $1.4 billion in 2005.

The T's advertising contractor, Titan, says the loss of the ads will cost the debt-laden agency $1.5 million in annual ad revenue. But Davey asserted today the ban will do little to affect the agency's overall finances.

"We'll resell most of those ads," Davey told State House News.

Stacy Carruth, a community health specialist at the Regional Center for Healthy Communities (Metrowest), said Massachusetts ranks poorly compared to other states regarding underage drinking.

And, she said the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the World Health Organization and the US Surgeon General have all issued statements "regarding the harms of alcohol advertising on youth and the need to address this a public health issue."

"We are not prohibitionists or against advertising per se. We are, however, opposed to our kids from lower income neighborhoods being wrapped in alcohol advertisements on their way to school on the MBTA, or for that matter a family going to the aquarium on a Saturday," she said.

E-mail Matt Rocheleau at mjrochele@gmail.com.
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(Matt Rocheleau for Boston.com)

Youth gather for today's press conference outside the Park Street MBTA station in downtown Boston.

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