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Reducing Underage Drinking: A Collective Responsibility
From the standpoint of industry self-regulation, there are two ways of responding to this situation. The most effective, and the easiest to administer, is to circumscribe the media locations (time and place) in which any alcohol messages can be placed. So, for example, there could be an industry guideline that no alcohol advertisement can be placed in a magazine or television show in which more than a designated percentage of the audience (say, 25 percent) is expected to be under 21. This approach is called a limit on the “placement” of advertising. The second approach focuses on the “content” of the advertising. Thus, the industry code might aim to preclude the use of certain types of images, sounds, or words that have particular appeal to youths. Obviously, formulating and applying a content-based standard is a difficult undertaking. The need to do so will depend in part on whether and to what extent the placement of advertisements is restricted. For example, there would ordinarily be less need for a content restriction if placements were precluded in any media for which more than 10 percent of the audience was expected to be underage than there would be if placements were precluded only if more than 50 percent of the audience was expected to be underage.
In 1998, Congress requested the FTC to assess the adequacy of self-regulatory efforts by the alcohol industry to prevent practices that encourage underage drinking. The FTC’s report, issued in 1999, reviewed existing industry standards and practices, identified deficiencies and best practices, and recommended improvements in relation to advertising placement and content. Four years later, the 2003 appropriations bill directed the FTC to reexamine industry practice regarding liquor-branded “alcopop” advertising and expressed concern that the industry had not fully implemented the commission’s 1999 recommendations. Although the committee believes the 1999 FTC recommendations are too weak in some respects, alcohol producers, wholesalers, and their trade associations should implement those recommendations forthwith, as an expression of good faith and as a signal of their willingness to become active partners in the nation’s campaign to reduce underage drinking.
Recommendation 7-3: The alcohol industry trade associations, as well as individual companies, should strengthen their advertising codes to preclude placement of commercial messages in venues where a significant proportion of the expected audience is underage, to prohibit the use of commercial messages that have substantial underage appeal, and to establish independent external review boards to investigate complaints and enforce the codes.