Alcohol ads continue targeting underage youth

(U-WIRE) WASHINGTON – Findings in a new report released by the Center of Alcohol Marketing and Youth at Georgetown University show that the amount of alcohol ads featured on television have grown steadily between 2001 and 2003. More importantly, those advertisements placed on programming which targets a youth audience rose 48.3 percent over those two years.

The report showed that all 15 of the television shows ranked most popular with teens aged 12 to 17 had alcohol ads during air time in 2003. Alcohol companies spent over $30 million to place 2,608 ads during these shows.

The 1980s and early 90s saw a significant decline in underage drinking, but these levels have failed to decrease over the past 10 years. According to the CAMY report, an estimated 10.9 million 12 to 20-year-olds reported having had a drink in the past month, and about 7.2 million of those reported binge drinking.

Public health research has found that increased awareness of alcohol advertising influences young people’s beliefs and behaviors when it comes to drinking. According to the report, “brain imaging has revealed that, when shown alcoholic beverage advertisements, teens with alcohol use disorders have greater activity in areas of the brain previously linked to reward desire, positive affect and episodic recall.”

This rise was caused in part by the outpouring of ‘spirit’ ads on television, but the beer industry consistently ran the most ads in each of the three years. The number of alcohol ads ‘overexposing’ youth rose from 51,084 in 2001 to 66,218 in 2002, and again to 69,054 in 2003. More than 23 percent of these ads that aired on television in 2003 were more likely to be seen by underage youths than adults. According to the study, the average underage person watched two beer ads for every three seen by an adult last year.

The study called for a re-evaluation of the industry’s voluntary guidelines. The alcohol industry’s self-regulation policy is the primary means of controlling the youth exposure to advertising, and CAMY’s findings assert that these are not effective enough.

“Every single day, 7,000 kids under age 16 take their first drink, and $6 billion of alcohol advertising and marketing each year isn’t helping,” said Jim O’Hara, the Center’s executive director. “More of the same is not progress, and this report shows that that is what we are seeing from the alcohol industry.”

In response to a similar CAMY study conducted last spring, Jeff Becker of the Beer Institute emphasized factors other than advertising regulations that needed to be in place to reduce underage drinking.

“The Roper Youth Report has consistently shown over the past decade that the most important influence on young people’s (ages 8-17) decisions about drinking are their parents, not advertising. That’s why brewers have invested hundreds of millions of dollars over the past two decades on programs that help encourage parents to talk with their children about this issue, a commitment noted by the FTC in its report when it commended the industry for spending $50 million per year to prevent illegal underage drinking and encourage responsible use of its products by adults.”

However, officials at CAMY maintain that the alcohol industry needs to act more responsibly in order to see any significant decline in the number of youths that consume alcohol.

“As recommended by the Institute of Medicine, the alcohol industry needs to fully accept its responsibility to change the advertising environment surrounding our youth,” said David Jernigan, the Center’s research director. “Advertising where underage youth are nearly a third of the audience is too small a step in reducing youth exposure and, as CAMY’s report shows, changes to meet even this lax limit have been too slow to come.”

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