In 1998, the Center for Media Education (CME) tracked and analyzed tobacco and alcohol companies' online marketing practices with special appeal to youth. It also conducted public education on these practices targeted towards the health and public policy communities, and the press.
CME conducted one survey each of tobacco- and alcohol-oriented Web sites, reviewed proposed regulations and technologies designed to protect children from harmful interactive advertising.
CME's two reports, Alcohol Advertising Targeted at Youth on the Internet: An Update, and Tobacco Advertising Targeted at Youth on the Internet: An Update, showed that:
- Alcohol companies are increasingly using Web sites and employing marketing formats that could appeal to children and teenagers.
- Cigarette companies are reluctant to establish a presence on the Web to market their products; however, pro-smoking culture sites that appeal to youth, and glamorize smoking are proliferating, with features such as chat rooms and bulletin boards.
- Cigar sites are also proliferating on the Web, but they appeal mostly to older consumers.
- The new technology of digital television (DTV) — which combines the power of computers with the reach of television — is rapidly maturing and could enable companies to market directly to individual children or teenagers products that are illegal for them or harmful to their health.
CME also produced two issues of a newsletter, infoActive Health, which highlighted the public health implications of online tobacco and alcohol advertising, as well as DTV, and distributed some 2,200 copies of each issue to journalists, public health experts and advocates, policymakers and parents.
The Federal Trade Commission requested, and CME provided, survey data on Internet advertising of alcohol companies to include in its 1999 report to Congress on Alcohol Advertising and Underage Drinking.
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) provided a $130,500 grant to support this project.