Television adverts for vodka hit by Prohibition spirit

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Seventy years after the repeal of Prohibition, the US television network NBC thought it might be time to reintroduce vodka adverts on to the airwaves. It thought wrong.

Seventy years after the repeal of Prohibition, the US television network NBC thought it might be time to reintroduce vodka adverts on to the airwaves. It thought wrong.

After three months of wrangling, congressional pressure and outbursts from campaign groups against drunk-driving, the network has decided to ban the booze all over again.

NBC announced the climbdown after Congress threatened to hold hearings on the issue and campaign groups said the adverts could only exacerbate an "epidemic" of under-age drinking. "We've said from the beginning that we want to be responsible on this issue," NBC said defensively.

This is a story that highlights the extreme sensitivities in America to issues of hard liquor, even though the days of bootleggers, speakeasys and mafia-run alcohol distribution networks are long gone.

It also, coincidentally, features an alliance between one of America's biggest broadcasters with the British liquor conglomerate Diageo, whose brands include J&B Whisky, Johnny Walker, Baileys, Jose Cuervos tequila and the product at the root of the controversy, Smirnoff vodka.

When NBC first mooted the campaign last October, it imposed a slew of regulations upon itself. The adverts would run late at night, would feature only actors over the age of 30, would not depict drinking as a glamorous rite of passage for teenagers, and would not suggest alcohol could "enhance anyone's attractiveness, personal relationships or sexual prowess".

The network also decided to run several months' of "social responsibility advertising" outlining the dangers of alcohol abuse before plugging Smirnoff itself. NBC tried to point out that more than 400 local television stations around the country advertised whiskey and other spirits without restriction, but nobody was impressed.

NBC said yesterday the social responsibility adverts would run until April, which is when the contract with Diageo runs out. After that, it will be back to beer and wine only.

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