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Replacing 7 Up with Bud is no way to build civic pride

Replacing the historic 7 Up sign in the Hollywood District ('Up'-ended, June 24) with one promoting Budweiser beer sends a bad message to young people in Portland and creates a new and unwelcome neighborhood landmark.

Portland's children would become one of the largest audiences for this enormous beer advertisement. In addition to towering over Interstate 84 and Northeast Sandy Boulevard, Budweiser's sign would stand within a mile of Grant High School, Fernwood Middle School and Hollywood Elementary School.

Sandy Boulevard also is the route for the nation's largest children's parade, the Junior Rose Festival Parade, each June.

Rob Maletis, owner of Maletis Beverage, the exclusive distributor of Budweiser products in Portland, told the Portland Tribune: 'Now we're going to talk to our grandkids É about this new landmark.' But what we need to be talking to our kids and grandkids about is their exposure to alcohol marketing messages and the dangers of underage drinking at a time when underage drinking remains at unacceptably high levels.

Nationally, underage drinkers account for up to 20 percent of the alcohol consumed in the United States, and alcohol sales to teenagers account for up to $22 billion a year. According to the American Medical Association, underage drinking is reaching epidemic proportions.

Here in Oregon, according to the state Department of Human Services, one in four Oregon eighth-grade students, and almost half of Oregon high school juniors, took a drink in the last 30 days. Nearly 10 percent of Oregon eighth-grade students, and 25 percent of high school juniors, reported an episode of binge drinking (five or more drinks in a row) in the past month.

Underage drinking can have tragic consequences. Alcohol use is associated with the three leading causes of death for people age 15 to 24: unintentional injuries (including car accidents), suicide and homicide. Young people who begin drinking before the age of 15 are four times more likely to develop alcohol dependence than those who wait until the age of 21.

Advertisements such as Budweiser's planned Hollywood sign Ñ and it is an advertisement Ñ help promote underage drinking. National studies have shown that alcohol advertising and messaging Ñ prevalent in television, radio, magazines, billboards and other media Ñ have an impact on youth behavior when it comes to drinking, and that so-called 'responsibility ads' from alcohol companies have been largely ineffective and constitute a tiny fraction of the total amount of alcohol advertising that youths see and hear.

The current owners of the 7 Up sign, 3701 Investors LLC, are to be commended for coming close to reaching an agreement with the Hollywood Boosters, a local business group, to preserve the existing sign. 3701 needs to try again and work with neighborhood residents, local businesses and public officials to preserve the existing sign or find another, much more suitable, replacement for the neighborhood. Installing the Budweiser sign is a big mistake.

Maletis says the Budweiser sign will create a new and better point of civic pride. Anheuser-Busch, the manufacturers of Budweiser, may be proud of scoring a permanent ad placement in one of the city's most valuable spots, but it's hardly something Portland should be proud of.

The possible placement of this new Budweiser sign should serve as a wake-up call for parents, educators, public officials, community leaders and students that we need to redouble our efforts to reduce the toll of underage drinking in Oregon and curb the influences Ñ including advertising Ñ that lead to this risky and unhealthy behavior.

Laura Burney Nissen lives in the Hollywood neighborhood with her husband, Don, and their daughter Hannah. She is an associate professor at Portland State University, where she works in the Regional Research Institute.