An ad promoting a trip to Glacier National Park

Young people were exposed to 31 percent less alcohol advertising in magazines in 2004 than in 2001, but still are exposed on average to more advertising of beer, hard liquor and flavored malt beverages than adults of legal drinking age, according to a recent study.

Youth still see 15 percent more beer advertising and 10 percent more distilled spirits ads per capita than adults over 21, according to a report by Georgetown University’s Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth.

Youth exposure to “alcopops,” brands like Mike’s Hard Lemonade and Smirnoff Ice, which have alcohol contents between 4 percent and 6 percent, is even higher. In 2004, youth saw 33 percent more advertising for alcopops per capita than adults age 21 and older.

Youth exposure to alcohol ads dropped significantly since 2001, due to trade associations for the beer and distilled spirits industries setting a voluntary threshold in 2003 saying they would not advertise in magazines with a youth readership higher than 30 percent.

Twenty-two brands out of 211 advertising alcohol products in 2004 were responsible for more than 50 percent of exposure to youth. Those 22 brands accounted for about one-third of the $1.3 billion spent on alcohol advertising in magazines in 2004.

Three brands–Miller High Life, Heineken and Hennessey Very Special Cognac–delivered as much or more exposure to 12-20-year-olds as to those ages 21-34, the group the industry usually considers its target audience.

David Jernigan, executive director of CAMY, called the decrease in youth exposure “an encouraging development and a step in the right direction,” but said he would like to see similar improvement across all brands.

“Underage drinking is the No. 1 illegal drug problem among our nation’s young people,” Jernigan said. “Ongoing independent monitoring of youth exposure to alcohol advertising gives policy makers and parents information they need to reduce the odds that kids will drink.”

The National Survey on Drug Use and Health said nearly 11 million young people ages 12-20 drank alcohol in a 30-day period in 2004. An average of 5,400 young people under 16 start drinking every day. Three teens die from drinking and driving each day, and at least six more die from other alcohol-related causes like suicide, homicide, drowning and falls.

Early drinking also is shown to adversely affect young people’s chances of getting ahead later in life. Evidence is growing that exposure to alcohol advertising plays a vital role in underage drinking.

Progress in reducing alcohol ads seen by underage youth in magazines was offset by an earlier CAMY study showing that youth ages 2 to 20 saw almost 33 percent more alcohol ads on television in 2004 than their demographic did in 2001.

Youngest children, ages 2 to 11, saw a 27.5 percent increase in alcohol ads: from 96.6 ads per child per year to 123.2.

For older youth–ages 12 to 20–the increase in alcohol ads seen was 31.7 percent: from 209.3 ads per youth per year to almost 275.6 ads per youth per year.

Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.

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