Recent research from the Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth (CAMY) points to deliberate and focused alcohol advertising to minors.

In spite of alcohol’s place in Americana, the dangers of alcohol use by young people have led the country to restrict access to alcohol. However, few statutes restrict the advertising of alcohol to minors.

The alcohol industry has voluntary regulations on ads targeting youth. However, the industry can conceal its strategy of TV ads within the complexity of the media itself. Broadcasting by definition casts a broad net, and the means by which we are able to count who sees what is intricate.

A baseball stadium provides a useful framework for thinking about television as a vehicle for alcohol advertising. In a stadium, people of all ages will hear the beer vendor’s call, even though it is illegal for anyone under 21 to purchase the beverage.

Just as beer vendors in the aisle don’t whisper into the ears of adults so that children can’t hear their call, television advertisers understand that people who can’t purchase their product will receive some of their messages.

Suppose, however, that a section of the stadium seats people under 21. Most people would agree that beer vendors focusing efforts in this area would be engaged in inappropriate and, under certain statutes, illegal behavior.

Youth in this section might hear vendors in other locations, or they might be able to see a billboard pushing alcohol. Even so, one would have to wonder about the motivation of a vendor focusing attention in the youth section.

Certain television shows are equivalent to the youth section in the stadium. Rating systems give hard data on who is watching. So the question of whether the alcohol industry targets youth populations is subject to hard data.

Recent research from the Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth (CAMY) points to deliberate and focused alcohol advertising to minors.

CAMY found that alcohol ads aired on 13 of the 15 most popular teen shows. Interestingly, “7th Heaven” was the most popular teen show featuring beer advertising. Other top-rated shows include “Friends” and “ER.”

CAMY also found that almost 25 percent of all alcohol ads were more effectively delivered to youth than adults. Returning to the stadium analogy, it would be like one-fourth of all the vendors in the stadium circulating around the youth section.

America’s youth saw more beer commercials than ads for sneakers, gum, jeans, crackers, cookies or fruit juice. In short, the alcohol industry’s voluntary guidelines, such as restricting ads on shows with more than 50 percent youth audience, are not working. The industry was able to advertise on nearly 99 percent of all television shows broadcast in 2001.

Two obvious calls to action result from CAMY’s findings. The first should be a wake-up call for parents. As important as it is to monitor television programming, parents must remember that TV ads are designed to have a major and lasting impact on viewers.

Secondly, because voluntary regulations are not curbing exposure, mandatory regulations must be considered, restricting the alcohol industry’s reach into the psyche of our children.

Steve Sumerel is director of the department of family life and substance abuse, of the BaptistState Convention of North Carolina‘s council on Christian life and public affairs.

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