NASCAR, Drugs, and Beer

This summer the federal government proudly announced that NASCAR driver Jimmy Spencer had signed up as a spokesman for the National Youth Anti-Drug Media Campaign. According to the Office of National Drug Control Policy, Spencer and his family will "demonstrate to America's youth the positive consequences of staying drug free" and "remind parents of the importance of being involved in their children's lives."

The Center for Science in the Public Interest objects that the government is being inconsistent: Where are the media campaigns to remind barbers of the importance of cutting hair, remind doctors of the importance of curing disease, and remind actors of the importance of studying their lines?

Actually, the inconsistency that CSPI detects has to do with the links between NASCAR and beer. The organization has a $7.5 million Busch sponsorship deal, and individual drivers promote brands such as Coors and Miller. CSPI notes that Spencer's Web site shows him wearing a Budweiser hat and posing behind cases of Busch. It also sells shot glasses and foam beer can holders, "only a couple of mouse clicks" from links to the government's anti-drug propaganda.

"As beer promoters, Jimmy Spencer and NASCAR are the wrong messengers," says George Hacker, director of CSPI's Alcohol Policies Project. "They're no better than the Budweiser frogs as anti-drug spokesmen. It really shows that the drug czar has a blind spot when it comes to booze."

This hypocrisy angle is familiar. The Partnership for a Drug-Free America, which produces the ads for the government's media campaign, has itself been supported by manufacturers of beer, cigarettes, coffee, and tranquilizers. A drug-free America is the last thing these companies want to see.

But CSPI, which has long railed against tobacco, alcohol, and caffeine, may be the real deal. Presumably, it would like the government to send the same message about these drugs that it sends about illegal intoxicants: All use is abuse, and complete abstinence is the only responsible choice.

For those of us who have trouble with this message, Jimmy Spencer's role as an anti-drug spokesman raises a different issue. Since driving a race car is far more dangerous than using drugs, whether legal or illegal, can this guy really be a credible symbol of caution?

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