Television adverts encourage underage drinking.
Alcohol manufacturers are self-regulated in terms of advertising. In 2003, the industry set guidelines limiting advertising to media where at least 71.6% of the audience would normally be aged 21 years or above.
If a high proportion of an audience is likely to be underage, the show is off-limits to advertisers.
A no-buy list tells advertisers which programs to avoid in order to comply with the guidelines.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) consider the use of no-buy lists as "best practice." Since 1999, the lists have been recommended for media that are popular with underage audiences. Some alcohol companies use the lists to guide their placements, but not all.
From 2005-2012, youth were exposed to alcohol adverts on television more than 15 billion times, mostly on cable TV. During that time, the alcohol industry spent $7.5 billion on more than 2 million television adverts.
New criteria to help guide advertisers and reduce underage drinking
Excessive alcohol drinking is responsible for 4,300 deaths annually among those aged under 21 years. It is a risk factor for accidents, suicide and homicide, the top three leading causes of death for this age group.
Fast facts about underage drinking
- Drinking in the US is illegal under 21 years of age
- 11% of all alcohol in the US is consumed by youth aged 12-20 years
- Over 90% of this alcohol is consumed in binge-drinking sessions.
Studies show that alcohol advertising promotes positive attitudes toward drinking and encourages people to start drinking or to drink excessively.
The more exposure underage audiences have to alcohol advertising and marketing, the more likely they are to start drinking or to drink more.
In an attempt to curb underage drinking by eliminating non-compliant advertising exposure, researchers from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, MD, set out to produce a new set of "no-buy" list criteria.
The team believes their approach is a more comprehensive approach than those previously used.
The team looked first at the alcohol industry's level of compliance with its own guidelines regarding television ads.
They found that from 2005-2012, around 1 in 8 alcohol advertisements seen by children under the legal drinking age were non-compliant with alcohol industry guidelines. Most of these adverts were on cable television.
Next, Ross's team tested the potential effectiveness of a set of new no-buy list criteria they had designed.
Recommendations can eliminate non-compliance
The criteria recommend not putting advertisements on programs that fell short of the industry's own guidelines in the past year and during times of day when television audiences attract young people - for example, late at night.
They also recommend being more selective about placing advertisements on low-rated cable shows.
If the no-buy list had been universally applied during the study period, researchers say, it could have eliminated nearly all non-compliant advertising seen by children under the legal drinking age.
Study author David Jernigan, PhD, director of the Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth (CAMY) at Johns Hopkins, says:
"Even when parents set reasonable limits for their children's screen time, kids are still being exposed to a staggering number of ads for a product they are not allowed to purchase. Our findings offer a blueprint for reducing youth exposure to alcohol advertising within the current self-regulatory advertising environment."
Lead author Craig Ross, PhD, a research assistant professor of epidemiology at Boston University, MA, and a CAMY consultant, believes the "no-buy" list criteria will provide a simple and economically viable way for alcohol advertisers to improve compliance.
He says that using the list "should not be a burden to the industry," and points out that only a small number of programs are problematic. There is still a wide variety of programs for advertisers to choose from.
While restricting advertisements will not prevent underage drinking in itself, it is an important step, says Ross, because advertising images can help set children's expectations regarding alcohol.
To make the changes real, CAMY plan to create quarterly reports highlighting the programs and times of day that alcohol advertisers should avoid.
Medical News Today previously reported on research suggesting a link between TV advertising for alcohol and underage drinking.