Alcohol industry watchdog, Alcohol Justice, released a national study Oct. 25, assessing the impact of alcohol advertising on youth, concluding young people are being barraged on the way to school or around town. Actor and activist Kurtwood Smith, known for roles in “That 70's Show” and “Dead Poets Society,” led the event, which called on state legislators and Congress to pass legislation that requires transit agencies to ban alcohol advertising on transit property as a precondition of transportation funding.
According to the American Public Transportation Association, more than 20 percent of public transportation users nationwide are under age 25. In large metropolitan areas like Chicago and New York, many kids use buses and trains to get to and from school. These children are disproportionately minorities and/or from economically challenged neighborhoods.
“Exposure to alcohol ads influences youth to start drinking earlier and to drink more,” according to Alcohol Justice spokesperson Michael Scippa. He says the enticement can lead to alcohol-related problems later in life, including the disease of alcoholism. “Alcohol advertising bans can significantly reduce youth exposure to alcohol advertising.”
In 2012, advertising on transit vehicles and transit stations comprised 17 percent of the more than $1 billion alcohol companies spent on ads outside of the household, according to the Outdoor Advertising Association of America.
The report, "These Buses Don't Stop For Children: Alcohol Advertising on Public Transit," describes the alcohol advertising policies of 32 major metropolitan transit agencies. Eighteen ban alcohol advertising; Chicago, New York and Atlanta were tagged as “lagging behind agencies that protect youth from alcohol ads.” The report noted most major cities continue to allow alcohol advertising on transit-related benches and bus or train shelters even if a transit policy banning alcohol ads is in place.
Limits on alcohol advertising can significantly reduce alcohol-related harm according to the speakers at the Los Angeles press conference announcing the study. A 28 percent reduction in alcohol advertising could reduce underage alcohol consumption and binge drinking by at least a percentage point each, while a complete ban on alcohol advertising could reduce the number of deaths from harmful drinking by 7,609 deaths, claims Alcohol Justice.
The alcohol industry claims it is not targeting minors or encouraging underage drinking. Trade associations for beer, wine and spirits have self-regulatory guidelines in place for alcohol advertising. The Distilled Spirits Council of the U.S. (DISCUS) Advertising Code of Ethics is one such self-policed directive. Its rules associated with schools address stationary advertising, which may not be located within 500 feet of elementary and secondary schools or places of worship.
In 2012, the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) reversed its ad policy, citing economic reasons, and approved an ordinance that allows for alcohol advertising to be placed on trains and in stations for the first time in 15 years. CTA President Forrest Claypool says the ban is still in place on “L” stations that serve a high number of students and on all CTA buses. The bus stops, however, are city property and allow alcohol ads. Alcohol Justice's recommendations include alcohol ad bans extended to all government-owned transit-related properties.
The CTA expects to generate $3.2 million in additional advertising revenue from alcohol ads – 0.2 percent of the agency’s annual operating budget. Scippa says, “It makes no sense for public transit agencies or cities to allow alcohol advertising that recoups less than a percent of their operating revenues while governments in the U.S. bear the burden of over $90 billion in annual costs from alcohol-related harm.”