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Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth

Alcohol Advertising and Promotion

Excerpts from Reducing Underage Drinking: A Collective Responsibility

All text in this fact sheet is excerpted directly from Reducing Underage Drinking: A Collective Responsibility, a 2004 report from The National Academies.

In the committee's judgment, a great deal can and should be done by the alcohol industry to help society prevent and ameliorate some of the harms associated with its otherwise legitimate efforts to produce and market a product valued by the adult population (Reducing Underage Drinking: A Collective Responsibility, 126).

Advertising and Promotion

[E]ven if the companies are not targeting young people, abundant evidence shows that a large proportion of these commercial messages and promotional activities do, in fact, reach underage audiences (Reducing Underage Drinking, 132).

It is sometimes assumed that, in the absence of compelling evidence of causation, there is no legitimate basis for limiting the exposure of young people to alcohol advertising. This assumption is wrong for three reasons. First, the absence of definitive proof may be caused by the methodological complexity of the inquiry rather than the absence of a contributing effect. Second, there is a sound, common sense basis for believing, even in the absence of definitive proof, that making alcohol use attractive to young people increases the likelihood that they will become alcohol consumers as young people rather than waiting until they are adults. Third, persistent exposure of young people to messages encouraging drinking by young people (even if they appear to be 21) contradicts and interferes with the implementation of the nation's goal of discouraging underage drinking (Reducing Underage Drinking, 134-5).

The industry has the prerogative-indeed, the social obligation-to regulate its own practices and to refrain from marketing products or engaging in promotional activities that have a particular appeal to youngsters, irrespective of whether such practices can be proven to "cause" underage drinking (Reducing Underage Drinking, 135).

The committee believes that greater self-restraint by the alcohol industry in its marketing practices is an essential component of a sound national strategy for reducing underage drinking (Reducing Underage Drinking, 135).

Alcohol companies, advertising companies, and commercial media should refrain from marketing practices (including product design, advertising, and promotional techniques) that have substantial underage appeal and should take reasonable precautions in the time, place, and manner of placement and promotion to reduce youthful exposure to other alcohol advertising and marketing activity (Recommendation 7-2, Reducing Underage Drinking, 136).

In the committee's opinion, alcohol companies should refrain from displaying commercial messages encouraging alcohol use to audiences known to include a significant number of children or teens when these messages are known to be highly attractive to young people. It is not enough for the company to say: "Because these messages also appeal to adults, who will predominate in the expected audience, we are within our legal rights" (Reducing Underage Drinking, 136).

Although the committee believes the 1999 FTC recommendations are too weak in some respects, alcohol producers, wholesalers, and their trade associations should implement those recommendations forthwith, as an expression of good faith and as a signal of their willingness to become active partners in the nation's campaign to reduce underage drinking (Reducing Underage Drinking, 137).

The alcohol industry trade associations, as well as individual companies, should strengthen their advertising codes to preclude placement of commercial messages in venues where a significant proportion of the expected audience is underage, to prohibit the use of commercial messages that have substantial underage appeal, and to establish independent external review boards to investigate complaints and enforce the codes (Recommendation 7-3, Reducing Underage Drinking, 137).

Advertising Placement

Industry codes for beer and distilled sprits currently allow placement of alcohol advertising in media for which most of the audience is expected to be 21 or older. Because 70 percent of the population is 21 or over, this standard effectively allows placements almost anywhere except young children's television shows or magazines, and therefore allows alcohol messages to reach large numbers of children and teenagers on a regular basis (Reducing Underage Drinking, 138).

In the committee's view, immediate implementation of an industry standard of 25 percent for television advertising, as suggested by the FTC, would signify meaningful self-restraint in alcohol marketing to reduce youth exposure. Over time, the industry standard should move toward a 15 percent threshold for television advertising (Reducing Underage Drinking, 138).

According to figures provided to the committee by the Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth, a 15 percent threshold would preclude alcohol advertising on 34.0 percent of programs if the base includes children under 12 and 19.2 percent if it excludes children under 12. Assuming that alcohol advertising dollars would be redeployed to programs with audience compositions below the threshold, a 15 percent threshold (using a base of 12 and older) would reduce youth gross rating points (the industry standard measure of exposure) by 22 percent (Reducing Underage Drinking, 138-9, fn 7).

[A]doption of a 25 percent threshold would reflect a meaningful commitment to alter otherwise lawful magazine advertising practices to reduce youth exposure to alcohol advertising. As with television advertising, however, the industry should consider eventually moving toward a 15 percent threshold to further reduce the number of youth who are exposed to advertising intended for adults (Reducing Underage Drinking, 140).

Congress should appropriate the necessary funding for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to monitor underage exposure to alcohol advertising on a continuing basis and to report periodically to Congress and the public. The report should include information on the underage percentage of the exposed audience and estimated number of underage viewers for print and broadcasting alcohol advertising in national markets and, for television and radio broadcasting, in a selection of large local or regional markets (Recommendation 7-4, Reducing Underage Drinking, 145).