Alcohol Advertising to Children and Teens is on the Rise

Despite efforts by educators and parents to shield children and teens, there are ample opportunities for underage consumers to be enticed by alcohol advertisements. Studies have shown that exposure to alcohol advertising increases the likelihood that a teen is engaged in underage drinking. In recent years, the alcoholic beverage industry has self-regulated to reduce the number of advertisements aired while young people are most likely to be watching television. A recent report by the Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health shows that their efforts have not been effective. Instead, children and teens are seeing more alcohol advertising than ever before. The report shows that teen exposure to alcohol advertising in the U.S. increased by 71 percent between 2001 and 2009 – more than that recorded for adults over the age of 21. The report suggests the increase was largely due to the frequency of distilled spirit ads on cable television networks, with youth exposure up by 30 percent in 2009 compared to 2001. Those ads were aired during programming likely to be seen by those ages 12 to 20 than by adults who are legal drinkers. These numbers are surprising, given the industry-driven reforms that have been in place since 2003. In that year, beer, distilled spirits and wine marketers joined together to commit to advertising only when the audience is less than 30 percent youth. The commitment by the industry has been ineffective. In the first full calendar year following the reform in 2004 until 2009, the exposure of alcohol advertising to youth grew more than alcohol advertising to adults ages 21 to 34, or all adults 21 and older. Despite a commitment to avoid advertising to youth, 7.5 percent of alcohol ad placements occurred during programming with a youth audience of more than 30 percent. The average annual number of alcohol ads aired during programming with an audience of more than 30 percent young people increased from 217 in 2001 to 366 in 2009. This means that approximately one advertisement per day was shown to young people, encouraging them to drink alcohol. The report also indicated that 13 percent of youth exposure occurred as a result of advertising aired during programming that was above the industry-regulated threshold of 30 percent. The amount of youth exposure to distilled spirit ads on cable television doubled between 2004 (when the 30 percent threshold was established) and 2009. Half of all youth exposure was due to advertising by 12 brands as of 2009. In addition, between 2001 and 2009, children and teens were 22 times more likely to view an advertisement encouraging the consumption of alcohol than they were to view an advertisement focused on responsibility with alcohol or warning against underage drinking. Despite this barrage of alcohol advertising, parents can have a significant impact on their child’s decisions related to alcohol. They can encourage them to ask questions about alcohol and drugs, and provide them with examples of possible negative consequences associated with drinking alcohol. In addition, parents can make their wishes known, combined with a clear communication of expectations and consequences for alcohol use. Teens that have an understanding of their parents’ rules and the results of not following those rules are less likely to consume or become addicted to alcohol.

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