Many people are unaware of the prevalence of underage drinking in the United States. Every day in the United States, more than 4,750 kids under age 16 have their first full drink of alcohol. More youth in the United States drink alcohol than smoke tobacco or marijuana, making it the drug most used by American young people. Youth who start drinking before the age of 15 are five times more likely to develop alcohol dependency or abuse in their lifetime than those who begin drinking at 21 years or later. All of these facts were published by the Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth. They have published many reports on the prevalence of drinking among underage youth. But why do underage youth start drinking alcohol in the first place? According to many studies, alcohol advertising is the main influencer of alcohol consumption among underage youth. Alcohol advertising influences the use of alcohol among youth and increases the likelihood that they will consume alcohol illegally. For example, a study published in 2006 found that for each additional alcohol ad a young person saw (above the monthly youth average of 23), he or she drank one percent more. Also, for every additional dollar spent on alcohol advertising in a local market, underage drinkers consumed three percent more alcohol (Surgeon General, 2007). Because young children are likely to be influenced by alcohol advertisements, there needs to be stricter regulations on the advertising industries ability to advertise alcohol to underage youth. According to the Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Prevent and Reduce Underage Drinking (2007), “The short-and long-term consequences that arise from underage alcohol consumption are astonishing in their range and magnitude, affecting adolescents, the people around them, and society as a whole.” Therefore, there should be a stricter regulation on alcohol advertising to youth because of the strong influence it has on their behavior and their alcohol consumption patterns. Each year, the alcohol industry spends more than four billion dollars marketing its products (Mosher & Cohen, 2012). There have been multiple studies that have correlated underage youth exposure with a greater likelihood of drinking. It is imperative that the government or advertising industry reduces the impact of alcohol marketing on young people. Reducing underage drinking, like smoking, is an important public health goal (Mosher & Cohen, 2012). Public health departments in California, Massachusetts, and Florida have made crucial strides in reducing underage smoking rates in their states (Mosher & Cohen, 2012). They did this my sponsoring tobacco counter advertising campaigns. This indicates that this type of approach may be effective for reducing underage drinking as well (Mosher & Cohen, 2012). The problem with this for alcohol advertising is that there are already responsibility ads, but they are outnumbered by alcohol ads 226-1 (CAMY News Release, 2004). Alcohol product advertising has increased significantly in recent years, while responsibility ads have decreased. According to a new study from CAMY at Georgetown University, the number of responsibility ads dropped by 46 percent from 2001 levels, while the number of alcohol commercials increased by 39 percent. Industry spending on responsibility ads also fell—down 57 percent from 2001. This is unacceptable. According to CAMY Executive Director, Jim O’Hara, “This minimal amount of responsibility advertising does little to reinforce the message of parents and teachers who are trying to prevent underage drinking. Our children need to receive a more balanced message about alcohol.” According to the same study, for every dollar spent on responsibility ads in 2002, the industry spent $99 on product ads, where in 2001, the ratio was $1 to $35. Alcohol companies should be required to sponsor a certain amount of responsibility ads each year, that is relative to the number of alcohol product ads they place. This would help to increase the amount of responsibility ads underage youth is exposed to and thus, increasing the amount of reinforcement they receive to not drink underage and illegally. According to the CAMY study at Georgetown University in 2002, of 59 alcohol marketers advertising on television, only four places responsibility ads in 2002. Adolph Coors Co, Anheuser-Busch Companies Inc., SABMiller PLC and Diageo PLC were the four parent companies whose brands placed responsibility ads in 2002. Anheuser-Busch placed the most ads, but they still spent 45 times more on product ads and placed 89 more product ads than responsibility ads (CAMY, 2002). Underage youth were 287 times more likely per capita to see a TV commercial promoting alcohol from 2001 to 2006 (Nielsen Media Research, 2006). Other studies have found that youth exposed to alcohol in movies and to alcohol in signage near schools as well as youth ownership of alcohol promotional items are all associated with a greater likelihood of underage drinking (The Surgeon General, 2007). Therefore, because of youth’s potential to be greatly influenced by alcohol advertisements, this high amount of exposure to alcohol advertisements increases the consumption of alcohol among underage youth. There is opposition to stricter regulations on alcohol advertising; some feel that these regulations will not have any effect on the consumption and use of alcohol among underage youth. According to Marcus Grant, the president and founder of the International Centre for Alcohol Policies said that in many Scandinavian countries where alcohol advertising was banned, the prevalence of alcohol abuse was still high. Also, according to the industry Association for Responsible Alcohol Use (ARA), no evidence exists to support the notion that beverage alcohol advertising has any significant effect on the rate of alcohol abuse. According to the ARA, Denmark has a ban on all broadcast advertising except on low alcohol-content products, as well as various restrictions on print and outdoor advertising. It has one of the highest reported rates of intoxication among young people. Therefore, they feel that increasing the amount of regulations of alcohol advertising, or the banning of alcohol advertising as a whole, will not result in a decline in the rate of alcohol consumption among underage youth. While alcohol marketers have made reforms in their marketing practices, these revisions fall short (Mosher & Cohen 2012). In 2006, The STOP Act was passed, requiring that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services report annually on rates of exposure of youth to positive and negative messages about alcohol in the mass media. Advertisers are aware of the media usage of youth and current alcohol regulations do not do enough to protect underage youth from viewing alcohol advertisements. According to CAMY reports on Youth Exposure to Alcohol Ads, the advertising industry has reduced youth exposure to its advertising in magazines and cut its spending on radio. However, youth exposure to alcohol advertising on television grew by 30 percent between 2001 and 2006 (Mosher & Cohen, 2012). Because youth, ages 12 to 20, are only 13.3 percent of the national TV viewing audience, the current threshold of not placing ads where underage youth are more than 30 percent of the audience allows alcohol advertising on programs where there are more than twice as many youth as the viewing population (Mosher & Cohen, 2012). It is obvious that current regulations do not do enough to support the goals of Congress, and of the Surgeon General, to decrease alcohol advertising exposure and alcohol consumption among underage youth. Therefore, stricter regulations need to be put into place to restrict the advertising industry from placing alcohol advertisements within youth-consumed media. CAMY issued a report of eight methods for states to limit and reduce youth exposure to alcohol advertisements. According to CAMY, only 11 states implement more than one “best practice” policy, a total of 22 states implement no policies at all. It is important for these states to implement all of eight of the methods to ensure that underage youth are not exposed to these ads and the consequences of seeing these ads (Swift, 2011). According to a study conducted by Leslie B. Snyder, Ph.D., of the University of Connecticut, Storrs, and colleagues, a random sample of young people between the ages of 15 to 26 years old were interviewed. The researchers reported these results: (1) For each additional alcohol advertisement viewed per month, the number of drinks consumed increased by one percent (2) The same percentage increase, one percent per alcohol advertisement per month, applied to underage drinkers (those younger than age 21) as well as legal aged drinkers (3) Youth in markets with high alcohol advertising expenditures ($10 or more per person per month) also increase their drinking more over time, reaching a peak of 50 drinks per month by age 25 and, (4) Young people drank three percent more per month for each additional dollar spent per capita in their market (Buddy T., 2006). This research shows that advertising expenditure had a direct influence on the amount of alcohol consumed by underage and legal aged drinkers. According to Snyder, “The results also contradict the claims that advertising is unrelated to youth drinking amounts… Alcohol advertising was a contributing factor to youth drinking quantities over time,” (Buddy T., 2006). The facts cannot be denied; alcohol advertising is effective. The bottom line is, the more advertising young people see, the more they drink (Buddy T., 2012). CAMY has found that many parents are beginning to become concerned about the overexposure to alcohol advertisements that their children see. Two-thirds of parents believe more ads mean more youth drinking and 75 percent of parents agree that the alcohol industry should do more to limit youth advertising (Buddy T., 2012). It is unacceptable that nothing more has been done to prevent this while there have been multiple studies done on the correlation between alcohol advertising and underage drinking, and they all have concluded the same results: Exposure to alcohol advertising increase the likelihood for underage drinking and increased alcohol consumption. Alcohol advertisements need to be regulated across all media forms: online, television, magazine and print, radio, etc. Young people should not be exposed to alcohol advertisements, especially within the media channels that they use most. Television alcohol ads should not be allowed to be on shows with certain percentage of underage viewers, the same goes for magazine and radio advertisements. While it will be hard to regulate this, more can be done to make sure the message of preventing underage drinking is reinforced through responsibility ads. If stricter regulations on alcohol advertisements cannot be put into place, then the amount of responsibility ads countering the alcohol ads needs to be dramatically increased. Underage youth need to constantly be reinforced with the message of not underage drinking as well as the warnings of drinking such as drunk driving. In conclusion, more needs to be done to reduce the amount of youth exposure to alcohol product advertisements and to prevent underage drinking. It is the responsibility of the government and of alcohol marketers to make sure they are protecting youth, not corrupting them at a young age. Youth exposure to alcohol advertisements increase the amount of alcohol consumed by underage drinkers and current regulations are simply not doing enough to prevent this.
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U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The Surgeon General's Call to Action To Prevent and Reduce Underage Drinking. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the Surgeon General, 2007.