Still Growing After All These Years: Youth Exposure to Alcohol Advertising on Television, 2001-2005
In the wake of an historic increase in distilled spirits advertising on television since 2001, underage youth1 exposure to alcohol advertising on television has grown substantially over the past five years, despite alcohol industry marketing reforms implemented in 2003.
The Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth (CAMY) at Georgetown University has analyzed youth exposure to alcohol advertising on television from 2001 to 2005. Although a previous CAMY report has shown that youth exposure to alcohol advertising in magazines is declining,2 the television data show that young people are seeing a growing number of alcohol ads, and that the industry's voluntary 30% maximum underage audience composition for its advertising placements has not succeeded in protecting youth from the rising tide of alcohol advertising on television, particularly distilled spirits advertising on cable television.
From 2001 to 2005, alcohol companies spent $4.7 billion to place 1.4 million advertisements for alcoholic beverages on television. Analysis of those advertisements shows that:
- Everyone is seeing more alcohol ads on television. In the wake of a 32% increase in spending on televised alcohol ads and a 34% increase in the number of alcohol ads on television from 2001 to 2005, youth (ages 12 to 20) exposure to those ads increased by 41%, young adult (ages 21 to 34) exposure increased by 39%, and adult (age 21+) exposure increased by 48%.
- Much of the growth of alcohol advertising on television is due to the rapid expansion of distilled spirits advertising on cable. Distilled spirits ads and spending on cable in 2005 were more than 23 times what they were in 2001. Spending grew from $5 million to $122 million, and the number of ads increased from 1,973 to 46,854. In the same period, beer spending on all television grew by 26%, and spending on alcopops3 and wine declined.
- The number of alcohol ads placed on programming more likely to be seen by youth4 ages 12 to 20 than adults age 21+ has trended downwards over the past five years, but remains above 2001 levels. As a percentage of alcohol product advertising on television, the number of such ads fell from 25% in 2001 to 20% in 2005.
- The number of alcohol ads placed on programming exceeding the industry's voluntary standard of 30% maximum underage audiences (measured on ages 2 to 20) has also trended downwards, and by 2005 was slightly below 2001 levels. As a percentage of alcohol ads on television, ads on programming with underage audiences above 30% fell from 11% in 2001 to 8% in 2005.
- Youth overexposure to alcohol advertising was most likely to occur on cable television: in 2001 60% of overexposure was on cable, while in 2005 93% of overexposure was on cable, a percentage far out of proportion to the 43% of alcohol advertising dollars spent on cable in 2005.
- On three cable networks – Comedy Central, VH1 and BET – youth were consistently overexposed to alcohol advertising every year from 2001 to 2005.
- In 2005, 12% of youth exposure to alcohol ads on television came from placements on programs with audiences under age 21 in excess of 30%. More than one-third of the total youth exposure came from placements on programming more likely to be viewed by youth than by adults.
Why the Concern?
There are nearly 11 million underage drinkers in the United States, and 7.2 million of them report binge drinking (consuming five or more drinks on a single occasion).5 Alcohol is the number one drug problem among America's youth, and according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 4,571 persons under age 21 died as a result of alcohol use in 2001, the last year for which data are available.6 Alcohol use plays a substantial role in all three leading causes of death among youth -- unintentional injuries (including motor vehicle fatalities and drowning), suicides and homicides.7
The earlier young people start to drink, the worse the consequences of drinking are likely to be: compared to those who wait until they are age 21, young people who start drinking before age 15 are four times more likely to become alcohol dependent, seven times more likely to be involved in an alcohol-related motor vehicle crash, and at least ten times more likely to experience alcohol-related violence at some point in their lives.8 Heavy use of alcohol during adolescence can impair the development of the brain, causing loss of memory and other skills.9 Magnetic resonance imaging has also shown that teens with alcohol use disorders have greater activity in areas of the brain previously linked to reward, positive affect and episodic recall in response to alcoholic beverage advertisements, and that responses were highest in youth who consumed more drinks per month and reported greater desires to drink.10
A growing number of long-term studies has shown that the more alcohol advertising young people are exposed to, the more likely they are to drink or drink more.11 The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reviewed the alcohol industry's efforts at self-regulation of its marketing practices in 1999 and 2003,12 and will examine their efforts again in 2007.