Get the Facts
Marketing of Alcohol to Minors
Alcoholic beverage companies have depended on marketing influences targeted at the youth of our country as a way to ensure their company's future with ample alcohol sales from the young adult demographic that makes up their most profitable market share. The Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth (CAMY) from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health follows these marketing strategies closely over the years and exposes the many agendas that the alcohol beverage industry employ to keep beer and other alcoholic beverages selling.
CAMY reports that youth exposure to alcohol advertising on United States television alone rose by 71 percent between 2001 and 2009. This gain is higher than the television exposure for adults from age 21 and above and their most viable group of adults between the ages of 21 and 34.
The most prolific advertising came from cable television advertising. The advertising of distilled spirits was thirty times larger in 2009 than it was in 2001, with cable TV being responsible for much of this advertising. The alcohol industry's marketing focused on television shows with programming targeting youth between 12 and 20 rather than shows watched by those of legal drinking ages, 21 and above.
In an attempt to show good faith and from pressure from the Federal Trade Commission, the beer and distilled spirits companies vowed to advertise to this age group of youth when the composition of underage viewers was less than thirty percent. This was put in effect in 2003; however, the evidence shows that it has been ineffective in reducing exposure. As a point of comparison, during the time from 2004, when this new agreement was instituted, until 2009, youth exposure to this type of advertising had increased by a larger percentage than the advertising seen by those above 21.
The Federal Trade Commission and pressure from parents and groups like CAMY hasn't stopped the beer and distilled spirits industry from marketing to this vulnerable age group. Their profit motive seems to outweigh their moral concerns or their care for the children of our country.
Data shows that this marketing is meeting their sales goals. The National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions (NESARC) collected data from 2001 through 2002 showing that 70 percent of young adults in the United States, which represents 19 million youth, consumed alcohol in the preceding year. Research has shown that young adults in their late teens to their early and mid-twenties consume alcohol at the heaviest levels. This population of America is responsible for the most binge and heavy drinking, again, showing that the marketing to this population is working.
The public health effects from this population group are devastating. 32 percent of drivers between the ages of 16 and 20 that died in traffic accidents in 2003 had measurable amounts of alcohol in the blood and 51 percent of drivers between the ages of 21 and 24 who died in automobile accidents tested positive for alcohol.
This advertising has made alcohol use in youth a symbol of their rites of passage. Young adults move away from home to attend college or become self-sufficient and live away from parents and will explore their own identity and break away from the messages of caution that they received from their parents. These young adults are also facing challenges of independence that they haven't experience earlier and the stress from these new challenges can easily lead them to alcohol as a copping mechanism.
There is also ample research that shows that heavy drinking during these ages when the brain is still developing causes a higher percentage of lifelong alcohol related impairments in brain functioning than would occur if these drinking behaviors were postponed to later adulthood.
The alcohol industry is very aware of the research that early-aged heavy drinking has been proven to be a good predictor of alcohol-related problem later in life, such as alcoholism. Knowing that heavy drinking in youth is a high-risk behavior has mobilized organizations (such as Narconon Drug Education) to build awareness in youth of the impact of choosing to drink in high school.
Awareness building and policy changes that are educating youth about the dire effects of early age drinking and attempting to limit the sale and exposure of alcohol to youth are helping to arrest some of problems that would inevitably be worse without these efforts. All colleges have alcohol prevention programs in an attempt to counteract the messages that their students have received from television in their high school years. The military has been late in recognizing the importance of these prevention messages, but are now providing programs and strategies to prevent alcohol problems among military personnel.
One of the principal strategies for limiting alcohol consumption in the general population is to raise taxes on alcoholic beverages, put limits on points of distribution of alcohol so that neighborhoods aren't saturated with alcohol availability, as well as training the staffs of bars and retail stores to be diligent in requiring proof of age before selling to anyone that could be underage, and limiting the type and amount of alcohol advertising targeted at youth. As mentioned above, this attempt as proven that money and industry trumps care for the health of our youth, which points to the need for further efforts to curtail the influence that alcohol advertising has on our youth.
The tobacco industry has already been exposed for their attempts to do similar marketing and they have finally been corralled with public health statistics showing great promise, but in comparison, the alcohol industry still has entirely too much freedom to influence that will follow and destroy our youth if we don't demand responsible attitudes from these "drug pushers". We must get tougher and not let alcohol be a reason why we are not competitive with other countries because our young adults are limited by the hardships that come from their heavy drinking and alcohol addictions.