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Reducing Underage Drinking: A Collective Responsibility
that the alcohol beverage industry gains financial returns (both revenues and profits) from underage drinking.
Some have taken these facts to suggest that the alcohol industry’s commitment to reducing underage drinking may be equivocal. After all, today’s underage drinkers are tomorrow’s legitimate customers, and the industry has self-evident economic incentives to satisfy the underage demand. Suspicion that some new alcohol products and some alcohol advertising seem to be specifically targeted at the tastes and sensibilities of underage drinkers leads some industry critics to claim that at least some companies are not only being negligent with respect to underage drinking, but may (more culpably) be encouraging it (American Academy of Pediatrics, 1995; Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth, 2002a; Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America, n.d.).
In this report we take the industry’s professed motives as its true motives and focus our attention on how the industry’s collective efforts to reduce underage drinking could become both more effective and more credible. In the committee’s judgment, a great deal can and should be done by the alcohol industry to help society prevent and ameliorate some of the harms associated with its otherwise legitimate efforts to produce and market a product valued by the adult population. Specifically, the industry’s commendable investment in programs to reduce underage drinking or promote responsible adult drinking warrant more rigorous evaluation and improved coordination with other efforts. The committee makes several recommendations designed to increase and channel the industry’s prevention efforts. In addition, the committee urges the industry to exercise greater collective self-restraint in its marketing practices in order to reduce underage exposure to alcohol advertising. Although the evidence regarding the causal effects of alcohol advertising on underage consumption is inconclusive, it has been amply documented that there is a large underage market for alcohol, that advertising reaches a substantial underage audience, and that many commercial alcohol messages are particularly appealing to youth. In the committee’s judgment, this evidence warrants more aggressive self-regulatory efforts to reduce youth exposure to advertising. Specific recommendations, drawing on the industry’s best practices, are presented later in the chapter.
THE UNDERAGE MARKET
Efforts to estimate the proportion of alcohol consumed by underage drinkers have been bedeviled by the imprecision of quantity questions in national surveys and by concerns about underreporting, particularly in the National Household Survey of Drug Abuse. The most recent effort, by Foster et al. (2003), estimated that underage drinkers consumed 830.6