The nation’s “Drug czar,” John Walters, has drawn sharp criticism from a pro-health organization for his decision to use a beer-sponsored race car driver to promote an anti-drug message.
Walters, the director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy, chose Jimmy Spencer, a race car driver, to promote the ONDCP’s anti-drug message to American youth, according to George Hacker, director of the alcohol policies project of the Center for Science in the Public Interest.
“As beer promoters, Jimmy Spencer and NASCAR are the wrong messengers,” Hacker wrote. “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.”
Tom Riley, ONDCP’s public affairs spokesman, told EthicsDaily.com that Walters absolutely “believes underage drinking is a serious problem.”
“Age of initiation is an important concept,” he said. “We know that when people are able to avoid the start of using illicit drugs, alcohol and tobacco as teenagers, they are far less likely to develop substance abuse problems later in life.”
According to CSPI, NASCAR, Spencer and other drivers have lucrative deals with beer companies. Busch beer helps sponsor NASCAR for $7.5 million.
In an Aug. 5 letter to Walters, Hacker wrote, “This collaboration with beer promoters shows extremely poor judgment because beer is the major drug problem affecting young people in America today.”
“ONDCP’s anti-drug message to young people can not hope to compete with NASCAR’s non-stop reminders to drink beer,” Hacker wrote. “Beer brand logos are omnipresent on NASCAR drivers’ uniforms, cars, infield equipment, and kid-friendly promotional items such as caps, T-shirts, and toy cars.”
Hacker wrote, “It’s bad enough that ONDCP’s $1 billion national media campaign ignores the drug that is most likely to kill or maim young people. But that omission is aggravated many times over by the agency’s tacit implication, in its collaboration with beer-saturated NASCAR, that beer is an acceptable choice for young people.”
In an ONDCP press release about Spencer’s involvement, Walters said, “We know that for many young people, sports like NASCAR represent a powerful anti-drug. Having Jimmy Spencer as part of our youth anti-drug campaign team is going to amplify drug prevention messages to kids and their parents.”