Reducing Young People's Exposure to Alcohol Advertising

Strategic communications effort to reduce young people's exposure to alcohol advertising

Field of Work: Reducing young people's exposure to alcohol advertising.

Problem Synopsis: According to the National Institutes of Health, more than 40 percent of children who start drinking before age 15 develop an alcohol dependence problem. According to a government survey, the average American adolescent first uses alcohol at age 13. After falling from peak levels in the 1970s, youth drinking stabilized during the 1990s at still-high levels despite substantial efforts to improve enforcement of minimum-age drinking laws. At about the same time, the beer and liquor industry began exposing youth audiences to unprecedented amounts of alcohol advertising with targeted new marketing campaigns.

Synopsis of the Work: From 2002 to 2008, the Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth (CAMY) at Georgetown University monitored the marketing practices of the beer and wine segments of the alcohol industry, to focus attention and action on practices that jeopardize the health and safety of America's youth. Using commercially available databases, CAMY calculated the exposure of youth (ages 12 to 20) to alcohol advertising on television and radio, in magazines and on the Internet.

CAMY closed operations at Georgetown in July 2008, but its co-funder, the Pew Charitable Trusts, continues to host the Web site, making CAMY monitoring reports and other tools available to policy-makers and the public. CAMY's executive director has since moved CAMY to Johns Hopkins University, where it continues to operate.

Key Results: CAMY produced a steady flow of data and other information for policy-makers, the media and the public that focused attention on the problem of youth exposure to alcohol advertising. CAMY generated more than 2,500 news stories in response to its disseminated research and created a Web site with more than 50 reports, fact sheets, brochures, model legislation and other tools.

  • Through nonpartisan research and educational activities, CAMY helped to create an environment that mobilized the federal government and the beer and liquor industry to address the issue of adolescent youth exposure to alcohol advertising.
    • In 2003, the alcohol industry's beer and distilled spirits trade associations adopted a voluntary standard stipulating that alcohol advertisements not be placed where more than 30 percent of the audience is below the legal drinking age. This is a drop from the previous threshold of 50 percent.
    • President George W. Bush signed the Sober Truth on Preventing Underage Drinking (STOP) Act in December 2006, which requires the Office of the Secretary of Health and Human Services to monitor alcohol advertising and report to Congress annually on the federal government's efforts to combat underage drinking.
    • In 2008, the Congress approved an appropriation of $1.5 million to the CDC to continue independent monitoring of the alcohol industry's marketing practices. The CDC has awarded $800,000 for each of the next five years to CAMY.

Key Findings: Although some beer and liquor companies complied with the industry's 30 percent threshold for adolescent audiences, the standard produced slight progress in reducing youth exposure to advertising. Overall, declines in advertising to youth in magazines were offset by increases in cable television advertising.

  • Youth exposure to beer and hard liquor advertising on television rose by 38 percent from 2001 to 2007, with the greatest exposure coming from cable television.
  • Youth exposure to beer and hard liquor advertising in magazines decreased by 22 percent from 2001 to 2006.

Key Recommendations:

  • The alcohol industry should adopt a threshold of 15 percent (roughly the proportion of youth ages 12 to 20 in the U.S. population age 2 and above) as the maximum percentage for youth in their advertising audience. This would eliminate much of the excess exposure of youth to alcohol advertising.

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