Intoxicating Brands: Alcohol Advertising and Youth

By Jernigan, David | Multinational Monitor, July-August 2008 | Go to article overview

Intoxicating Brands: Alcohol Advertising and Youth


Jernigan, David, Multinational Monitor


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PEOPLE WERE DRINKING ALCOHOL long before the alcohol industry hooked up with Madison Avenue, but the beer, wine and liquor companies clearly believe advertising affects consumption patterns.

Alcohol companies spend close to $2 billion every year advertising in the United States alone. From 2001 to 2007, they aired more than 2 million television ads and published more than 20,000 magazine advertisements.

Such heavy advertising inevitably leads to heavy youth exposure. That so much of the industry's advertising is aired on programming, or published in magazines, with large youth audiences makes this problem much worse.

From 2001 to 2007, youth exposure to alcohol product advertising on television rose by 38 percent. The average number of television advertisements seen in a year by youth increased from 216 to 301.

In 2007, approximately one out of every five alcohol product advertisements on television was on programming that youth ages 12 to 20 were more likely per capita to see than adults of the legal drinking age. Almost all of them were on cable television, where distilled spirits companies in particular have dramatically increased their alcohol advertising in the past seven years. This large and increasing TV exposure offset reductions in magazine exposure over the same time period.

The data comes from researchers with the Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth at Georgetown University (CAMY) and Virtual Media Resources (VMR) of Natick, Massachusetts, who analyzed the placements of 2,033,931 alcohol product advertisements that aired on television between 2001 and 2007, and 19,466 alcohol advertisements placed in national magazines between 2001 and 2006.

All of this advertising--and other industry marketing strategies--matters. Heavier youth exposure to advertising leads to more alcohol consumption, researchers have found. Alcohol use and abuse takes a serious, direct toll on youth in deaths, injuries, academic performance and emotional well-being, and earlier and heavier drinking sets up kids for worse health outcomes later in life.

FUELING UNDERAGE DRINKING

Alcohol is the leading drug problem among young people. According to "Monitoring the Future, the federal government's annual survey of drug use among eighth-, 10th- and 12th-graders, more young people drink alcohol than smoke cigarettes or use illegal drugs. The U.S. Surgeon General estimates that approximately 5,000 people under age 21 die from alcohol-related injuries involving underage drinking each year.

Despite significant efforts to reduce youth access to alcohol, binge drinking among youth remains stubbornly high. In 2006, 7.2 million youth under age 21 reported binge drinking (consuming five or more drinks at a sitting, usually defined as within two hours) within the past month.

The earlier young people start drinking, the worse the consequences. People who start drinking before age 15 are four times more likely to become dependent on alcohol later in life than those who wait to drink until they are 21. Those who drink heavily in adolescence and early adulthood are more likely to develop a metabolic profile that puts them at greater risk of cardiovascular problems later in life, whether or not they continue drinking.

"Too many Americans consider underage drinking a rite of passage to adulthood," says former Acting Surgeon General Kenneth Moritsugu. "Research shows that young people who start drinking before the age of 15 are five times more likely to have alcohol-related problems later in life. New research also indicates that alcohol may harm the developing adolescent brain. The availability of this research provides more reasons than ever before for parents and other adults to protect the health and safety of our nation's children."

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There is compelling evidence that exposure to alcohol advertising and marketing increases the likelihood of underage drinking. …

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