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New study says TV ads spur kids to drink

Whether in cans, bottles or plastic cups, minors are turning to the brands advertised on the shows they watch, even when cheaper alternatives are available.
Whether in cans, bottles or plastic cups, minors are turning to the brands advertised on the shows they watch, even when cheaper alternatives are available.
Photo by Marco Di Lauro/Getty Images

There is a “robust relationship” between youth's brand-specific exposure to alcohol advertising on television and their consumption of those same alcohol brands during the past month, according to a study posted online for Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research. The July 1 “early view” of the study, for print publication later in the year, strongly suggests kids who are drinking are drinking what they see advertised on TV.

This is the nation's first brand-specific study on underage consumption of those brands. The researchers examined a national sample of 1,031 youth, ages 13–20, who had consumed at least one drink of alcohol in the past 30 days and noted all alcohol brands consumed by underage drinkers. The respondents also reported which of 20 TV shows popular with youth they had watched during the past 30 days. The brands consumed were consistent with the ads they saw in the programs, popular among them: Sporting events. “This study provides further evidence of a strong association between alcohol advertising and youth drinking behavior,” concluded the study.

Genetics and age of first use are among the factors leading to alcohol use disorders such as the disease of alcoholism, as noted in alcoholism book, Every Silver Lining Has a Cloud. The Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth at Georgetown University (CAMY) has found that youth in the United States were 96 times more likely per capita to see an ad promoting alcohol than an industry ad discouraging underage drinking.

In a related article, William Flannery, MD, of the College of Psychiatrists of Ireland noted “There is no product on the planet that could cause children more harm. They are the real targets of alcohol ads."

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has been at a similar conclusion about the potential harm from alcohol ads in 1999, saying "While many factors may influence an underage person's drinking decisions, including among other things parents, peers and the media, there is reason to believe that advertising also plays a role." Watchdog groups, including Alcohol Justice, have been even more visible in the past twelve months, not just on alcohol advertising in sport, but everywhere kids are a primary audience, including social media and public transportation.

“The more alcohol ads kids see, the more likely they are to drink, to start drinking at an earlier age, and to drink more. Youth in markets with greater alcohol advertising expenditures drink more; each additional dollar spent on alcohol advertising raises the number of drinks consumed by 3 percent,” according to Alcohol Justice. Their Free Our Sports Youth Film Festival project is a call to eliminate alcohol advertising, sponsorships, branding and promotions from every sport.

An effort to estimate the likely effects of several alcohol policies (higher taxes, advertising bans) on underage drinking behavior in the U.S. population was published in 2006 in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol (JSAD). It concluded that a total ban on alcohol TV and print advertising would be the most effective, resulting in 7,609 fewer deaths from harmful drinking and a 16.4 percent drop in alcohol-related early mortality.

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