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Alcohol Companies Still Targeting Youth

Alcohol consumption is portrayed as the “cool” and “fun” thing to do within high school movies, seeping into the minds of underage kids that if they consume alcohol, they’ll be cool too. Sadly enough, this illustrated and glamorized image of alcohol does not stop at the movies. Advertisements that support this idea are constantly aimed at younger audiences, when in reality these types of inconspicuously placed ads are supposed to be banned.

In 2001, alcohol companies spent around $4 billion to advertise their products through traditional and non-traditional media, many intentionally targeting youth. The legal drinking age in the United States is 21. However, it is easier than ever for someone underage to gain access to a wide array of alcohol, making underage drinking a less risky and more enjoyable activity.

There are many rules and guidelines for promoting alcoholic products to minors, such as billboard restrictions around elementary schools. However, many components of ads placed outside these restrictions appeal to a younger demographic, catching the eyes of and influencing the younger crowd to consume alcohol.

Magazine ads also play a role in promoting alcohol to underage youth. In 2001, 10 magazines whose readers averaged between 12 and 20 years of age promoted alcohol-related ads. Just how much were these ads shown within magazines? They accounted for 1/3 of alcohol magazine expenditures, research shows.  This exposure plays a heavy role in determining whether an underage person will start drinking early, as well as continued habits of binge drinking.

Our research found there is a strong and consistent link between alcohol advertising on traditional media such as TV, print and outdoor, and a young person’s decision to drink alcohol earlier in life and in greater quantities that are likely to put them at an increased risk of harm.

Professor Pettigrew

With the ban on advertising alcoholic products to youth demographics, how are these companies able to keep pushing out these ads?

More Ads, Less Oversight

A study by researchers from Boston University School of Public Health concluded that although alcoholic advertisements violate the industry’s voluntary code (which prohibits this type of advertising), they can discover loopholes in still being able to air the content if it contains content appealing to younger demographics.

Sports events also glorify alcoholic ads made to supposedly target the average consumer. However, many of these ads (21.5% discovered in one study) are appealing to a younger demographic, potentially influencing their choice to drink early.

It seems alcohol companies don’t care to abide by the voluntary codes which promotes the social responsibility of only targeting drinking-aged adults in their ads. These codes are frequently violated, putting underage minors at risk for developing drinking habits and ultimately alcoholism.

With alcohol remaining the greatest illicit substance abused by young demographics, alcohol companies relentlessly see dollar signs in their efforts to keep defying the notion of advertisement bans. With increasing exposure to the substance, underage youth are more likely to want to try alcohol and eventually make alcohol consumption a part of their adult life, further adding to the revenue of these companies.

It’s not enough that ads are thrown out in sports events as well as magazines and billboards, but even YouTube is gaining revenue from playing this game. A recent study looked at 137 YouTube videos featuring typical alcoholic drinks appealing to underage minors, such as beer. What they found was that 40% of the videos were ads, and in total, the number of viewers these alcohol related videos racked up was almost 97 million views.

There’s no efficient way of determining what amount of those viewers were underage, which can make censoring quite difficult. However, with more pressure on public health groups and the government to enforce these guidelines, it’s only a matter of time before campaigns are run to counteract alcohol advertisements to underage kids – just like movements such as the Tobacco Free Florida Campaign does for the tobacco industry.

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