Public health officials worldwide are calling on their governments to get tough on alcohol marketing. A special issue of the scientific journal Addiction, edited by a UConn professor, finds that alcohol marketing to young people has a direct link to early drinking. And social media also plays a crucial role.
Under the Federal Alcohol Administration Act, alcohol beverage advertisements in the U.S. do not require approval before appearing in print or broadcast.
The alcohol industry has its own set of voluntary rules and guidelines, such as running television ads during programs with a mostly adult audience. Even so, health experts say they've found numerous ads in violation of those guidelines.
In a recent publication that looks at multiple studies from around the globe, high ad exposure was connected not only to early drinking, but to binge drinking in Europe. That’s according to the publication’s lead editor, Professor Thomas Babor of the University of Connecticut.
"European countries have much higher rates of binge drinking in young people," said Babor. "They have much lower age limits, usually 16 or 18 in most European countries."
In almost every region of the world, alcohol is the leading cause of death and disability for males ages 15 to 24. In wealthy nations, it’s also a leading cause of death and disability for young women of the same age.
Babor said youth drinking hasn’t been quite as bad in the United States, partly because of the drinking age restriction.
The report focuses on the marketing of alcohol to young people in all media -- print, broadcast, and digital -- as well as at sporting and other events, and digital marketing, the most concerning area in an industry that’s self-regulating, Babor said.
He’s particularly concerned about the way young people share ads through social media.
"The rationale is that it’s a much more effective way of marketing by getting young people to act as agents by sharing and making comments about new brands and about the use of brands to get intoxicated," said Babor. "And this is a very troubling development.”
The analysis includes recommendations by health experts who feel that the most effective response to alcohol marketing is a comprehensive ban on advertising, promotion, and sponsorship, as well as ending the alcohol industry’s self-regulation.
But according to an online report by Marketing Week, ad agencies in the UK are striking back. They say the report doesn’t portray the alcohol advertising regulatory system accurately… And maintains there are strict rules in place with regards to children and digital media.