Booze companies use ads to target teens, study finds

Booze ads really are fueling underage drinking, new research suggests. 

The alcohol industry is targeting kids on social media and during soaps and other popular TV shows, according to the study.

Product placement in movies and at sporting events is also rife – with mascots like the Budweiser Frogs easily recognized and trusted by children.

The same techniques were used by tobacco companies to lure young smokers, warn scientists.

‘The association of alcohol and tobacco advertising exposure and adolescent perceptions, knowledge of, and use of these substances are remarkably similar,’ said Lead author Dr Michael Weitzman, a pediatrician at New York University. 

‘It adds adds to the much-needed evidence the association between alcohol advertising and teen alcohol use is causal in nature.’

Alcohol companies are use the same techniques that were so notoriously effective for Big Tobacco – including kid-friendly mascots and strategic product placements – to draw teenagers and drive up underage drinking, a new study found (file)

Dr Weitzman and his student Lily Lee based their finding using an epidemiological formula that links environmental exposures and disease.

They said: ‘Exposure to alcohol advertising changes teens’ attitudes about alcohol and can cause them to start drinking.

‘Just as tobacco advertising causes teen smoking, exposure to alcohol ads causes teens to drink. Advertising has long influenced how people purchase and consume goods.

‘The young are particularly vulnerable due to their potential for forming brand loyalties, limited skepticism and high use of social media–where alcohol marketing is increasingly found.’

Teen alcohol use is a major public health problem leading to injuries – including those from car crashes – to risky sexual behavior and damage to the developing brain.

Although underage drinking has declined somewhat in recent years, there are still an estimated 10 million people between ages 10 and 20 that do drink alcohol, according to Addiction Campuses. 

Some 60 percent of high school seniors in the US drink, and they tend to binge and black out more than adults, who are more likely to sip or restrain themselves to a glass of wine with dinner.  

Research shows teen exposure to advertising is associated with drinking attitudes and behavior.

This is the first analysis to prove it causes it. The same criteria showed smoking triggers cancer and tobacco marketing makes youths smoke.

Factors and tobacco company behaviors that led the Surgeon General to conclude the Big Tobacco caused teens to smoke and later develop worse health outcomes for it were set out in a 2012 report. These were applied to the case of alcohol.

‘The conclusion the association between exposure to tobacco advertising and adolescent tobacco use are causal allowed for policy development that justified further regulation of tobacco advertising aimed at youth,’ said Dr Weitzman. 

‘The conclusion also set the framework to investigate a potentially analogous relationship with alcohol.’

In every aspect analyzed, the influence of tobacco and alcohol advertising on teens was mirrored.

For instance, both tobacco and alcohol companies have used mascots in advertisements.

Examples include Camel cigarettes’ Joe Camel – a controversial cartoon character dreamed up by Camel cigarettes – and the Budweiser frogs.

In addition, both industries have used movies, television and sporting events as opportunities for advertising and product placement.

Studies have shown exposure to smoking and drinking increases the risk for youth initiation.

The researchers also found neighborhoods with large numbers of tobacco retailers expose youngsters to more tobacco advertising and make it easier to buy cigarettes.

This also finding held true for alcohol retailer density as well. Troublingly, tobacco and alcohol retailers are often near schools.

And the researchers found exposure to tobacco and alcohol advertising and teen knowledge, attitudes, initiation, and continued use of the products are extraordinarily similar.

Many studies show advertising is a risk factor for both smoking and drinking, with several identifying a dose-dependent relationship.

The more exposure the greater the consumption, reports the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs.

The researchers said: ‘These findings indicate that exposure to alcohol advertising causes increased teen alcohol use.’ 

Research shows underage drinkers are more than five times more likely to buy alcohol after seeing it advertised on TV.

An earlier US study by Boston University found a strong link between what under-18s saw on television and how they drank in the month afterwards.