Address presented to the Surgeon General's Workshop on Drunk Driving
December 14, 1988
Accompanied by Dr. Loren Archer, Deputy Director of the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism in the Alcohol,
Drug Abuse, and Mental Health Administration
December 14, 1988
Remarks presented at the Closing Session of Surgeon General's Workshop on Drunk Driving
December 16, 1988
By C. Everett Koop, MD, ScD
Surgeon General of the U.S. Public Health Service
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
The next three presentations are all connected and were given over a three-day period. They're included in this archive
because they give perhaps a better idea to the user of the way a Surgeon General's Workshop worked and what the potential
spin offs could be.
The first is an address I gave as the charge on December 14,1988, to the Surgeon General's Workshop on Drunk Driving.
On the same day I was asked to give a testimony before a Senate Committee headed by Senator John Glenn, on the activities
of the Surgeon General's Workshop itself. I was accompanied on this occasion by Dr. Loren Archer, Deputy Director of the
National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism in the Alcohol, Drug Abuse and Mental Health Administration (ADAMHA). Then
two days thereafter, I spoke at the close of the Surgeon General's Workshop but not quite in the usual way. I introduced
the closing remarks and then stepped aside while others from the Department of Transportation, the National Highway Traffic
Safety Administration, and the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, spoke from their respective positions of
expertise. I then returned and gave my closing remarks.
Let me say at the outset that we won in every aspect of these three days but it had not been easy. First of all, I learned
just as I was about to give the charge, the Brewers of America had gone to federal court to get an injunction to prevent me
from having the Surgeon General's Workshop on Drunk Driving. How could anybody, even an umbrella organization that is
only interested in selling beer, have the gall and the guts to go before a federal judge and ask that a conference aimed at
reducing the loss of life and the occurrence of disability after accidents from drunk driving, be forbidden to speak?
Believe me it got my dander up and I didn't calm down for at least a week. The Brewers were joined by the Vintners of
America and the federal judge refused to grant the injunction they requested but did instruct me that the meeting I had called
as a closed meeting with invited guests only, would have to be an open meeting. But on the other hand he softened that ruling
by telling me that, I and I alone, could make the rules of presentation before the workshop. This I did by forbidding anybody
to take the floor or ask any questions, who had not been invited. Other requirements that the judge placed upon me and the
workshop were all things that I planned to do anyway even though I had not advertised them to adversaries before hand. There
was another undercurrent. There are a lot of people in organizations that would rather see people killed by drunk drivers
than to chance a reduction in their own income. Edward 0. Fritts, President of the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB),
sent me a letter which he sent to the press before I received my copy. I wanted him and the NAB to be with us. I wanted everyone
to hear the NAB's point of view, not only because broadcasters are very influential - as we all know - but because they
also have so much at stake in this issue. They advertise the liquor that makes people drunk before they start to drive and
kill people. I also invited Mr. John O'Toole, Executive Vice President of the American Association of Advertising Agencies
(AAAA), and Mr. Dewitt Helm, President of the Association of National Advertisers, the people who are the clients of the American
Association of Advertising Agencies.
All three declined. O'Toole and Helm suggested that our workshop lacked good balance and said they had very little time
to prepare for the discussion that no doubt would take place here. I think their complaints and suggestions were unfair. I
know it's a troubling message for people such as that to face the fact that alcohol contributes to injury and premature
death. They tried an old trick and that is to kill the messenger.
Mr. Fritts' letter from the NAB was unsettling because it contained this observation: "At best this workshop is designed
to politicize the emotional tragedy of drunk driving. At worst it is a total abuse of the policy setting process."
Again, I am surprised at the transparency, the gall, and the greed of people who oppose education about drunk driving.
Inasmuch as over the past 7 years I had personally convened and conducted over a dozen workshops, I know without questions
they do not politicize anything and they are the best policy setting process that I had at my disposal.
This workshop would contribute to better public policy just as previous workshops had in reference to organ transplantation,
domestic violence, the needs of handicapped children and their families, and the role of self-help movement in public health.
None of these workshops ever was identified by anybody as a way to "politicize an emotional tragedy." And all of those
workshops contributed significantly to the policy making process of the administration I served.
I have reviewed the way tobacco, broadcasting, and advertising industries behaved around the time my predecessor, the late
Dr. Luther Terry, released the first smoking and health report 25 years ago. From that review I can see that, even at this
early stage of discussion, there are already similarities of behavior.
It was a shame and I said so. I think none of my detractors had read Santayana who was so correct when he wrote: "Those
who can't remember the past are condemned to repeat it."
For twenty-five years the public health community has, in a responsible way, looked at the public policy implications and
the research results of smoking and health as they came to light. From that information we in public health were able to plan
for ways to help the American people to cast off this high-risk health behavior - smoking. And that meant principally, a long
range and unremitting program of public education and instruction. Certainly drinking and driving is high-risk behavior amenable
to education and instruction.
My feathers were badly ruffled by the National Commission Against Drunk Driving in that they provided a dilemma not easy to
solve. One would think that the Commission and this Workshop would have the same presumed goal. That we should stand together
makes sense. Yet Mr. Adduci - Chairman of the Commission - cleverly suggested to me in a letter of November 28, 1998, "You
may be considering the following along with other options." One of those was to " disregard the views and position
of the National Association of Broadcasters." Another was to postpone this meeting. And the third, was to notify all panelists
that my office had overlooked or was unaware of the fact that the Department of Transportation had given the National Commission
a $1,000 grant to do a 16 month assessment of it's initiatives.
In meeting with Mr. Adduci it was decided that he and I would let no light be seen between us as we stood side by side in
this effort to reduce the carnage on the highways and streets. Further, either Mr. Adduci or his Program Director, Dr. Grant,
would speak at the opening plenary session.
Yet when the confirmatory letter was faxed to me on the 13th, the day before this Workshop opened, there was a quid pro quo
in return for Adduci's appearance, namely that my Workshop would not release conclusions until the Commission had completed
its assessment project -- a minimum of 16 months. That was unacceptable to me and I thought it would be to the audience and
the Commission (Adduci) refused to speak at the opening plenary session.
Adduci was not alone in asking that the findings of my Workshop be postponed. The National Beer Wholesalers Association and
the National Association of Broadcasters with participating legal counsel in most intensive discussions Wednesday, Thursday
and today, requested only a 45 day comment period followed by a 30 day delay before final publication. That's the kind
of regulation one expects, when Congress or one of the Cabinet Departments issues regulations in the Federal Register. Nothing
like that is ever
deemed appropriate at something like a Surgeon General's Workshop. One last word. I chose to have this Workshop at the
time that I did because December, coming as it does just before the Christmas and New Year holidays, is usually Alcohol Awareness
Month. I really had great difficulty in realizing that so-called respectable members of the community had the gall to try
to keep a respected Surgeon General from saving the lives of countless Americans.
I made a lot of promises, I kept them. I reported as was my usual custom -- those promises to a number of people not only
during the last year of Mr. Reagan's administration but also during the first year of George H. W. Bush's administration.
I even had one more Surgeon General's Workshop on Drunk Driving before I left office.
The user would do well to remember that at the time that this three-day conference was held, automobile "accidents"
were responsible for the greatest number of unintentional injuries and deaths in children under the age of 14. Many of those
"accidents" were caused by drunk drivers.