Over the Limit: Underage Kids See More Alcohol Ads


A new study claims a rise in TV alcohol advertising to underage young viewers -- and that the distilled spirits industry has breached its self-imposed limits. The Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health says there was a 71% rise between 2001 and 2009 in TV alcohol commercials seen by young viewers, 12 to 20 years old.

The average number of ads seen by young TV viewers increased to 366 in 2009 -- or one alcohol ad per day -- from 217 in 2001 to 366 in 2009. David H. Jernigan, PhD, CAMY director, stated: "This is a significant and troubling escalation and shows the ineffectiveness of the industry's current voluntary standards."

The report says the TV industry has blown through their self-regulating limits -- set in 2003 -- in which TV alcohol ads can only air in shows where the percentage of young viewers was 30% or less. Previous to this ruling, the percentage was 50%.



CAMY's study says overexposure to TV alcohol ads seen by 12-20 viewers amounted to 14,700 gross ratings points in 2009 -- or 44.1% of all TV alcohol ads seen by young viewers.

Of the 315,600 TV alcohol ads seen in 2009, 7.5% -- or 23,700 -- were above the 30% young viewer threshold for a particular program. It says the worst offenders were cable networks: 9% of its TV alcohol ads were above the limit -- 16,200 ads out of 179,900. Overall, youth exposure to distilled spirits advertising grew by nearly 3,000% from 2001 to 2009 on cable.

In 2009, five cable networks were more likely to expose youth per capita to alcohol advertising than adults 21+: Comedy Central, BET, E1, FX and Spike. Two of these -- Comedy Central and BET -- delivered more exposure to young viewers than to young adults ages 21-34.

In 2009, 12 brands generated half of youth overexposure: Miller Lite, Coors Light, Captain Morgan Rums, Bud Light, Samuel Adams Boston Lager, Miller Genuine Draft Light Beer, Crown Royal Whiskey, Corona Extra Beer, Disaronno Originale Amaretto, Smirnoff Vodkas, Miller Chill and Labatt Blue Light Beer.

Distilled Spirits Council, which represents major manufacturers, took exception to CAMY's findings, calling it "biased advocacy research." The DSC stated: "CAMY director David Jernigan's conclusion that the "[i]ndustry standards need to be tightened to protect youth from alcohol marketing" ignores the fact that while advertising on cable television increased from 2001-2009, the latest Federal government statistics released yesterday show that alcohol consumption rates among 8th, 10th and 12th graders have continuously declined during this same period and are at historic lows.

"Simply put, CAMY's claim that an increase in alcohol advertising is causing teens to drink is undercut by the federal government data and unsupported by the body of scientific literature."

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