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Reducing Underage Drinking: A Collective Responsibility
Industry codes for beer and distilled spirits currently allow placement of alcohol advertising in media for which most of the audience is expected to be 21 or older. Because 70 percent of the population is 21 or over, this standard effectively allows placements almost anywhere except young children’s television shows or magazines, and therefore allows alcohol messages to reach large numbers of children and teenagers on a regular basis. A good example is the pervasive beer advertising that accompanies sports broadcasts on weekday evenings and throughout the weekend. In 2001, for example, the alcohol industry spent $492 million dollars on advertising for sports television: Twenty percent of these ads (11,630 ads, with spending totaling more than $48 million) were on sports programs for which, based on expected proportions of the viewing audience, youth were more likely than adults to have seen the ads (Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth, 2002b). In its 1999 report, the FTC recommended that the industry threshold be moved toward 25 percent, representing the industry’s current best practices, and that companies be required by the codes to measure their compliance against the most reliable, up-to-date audience composition data available.
Since the 1999 FTC report, the wine industry and several individual beer and spirits companies have embraced a 30 percent threshold. These steps should be applauded, but the industry standard should continue to be reduced. In the committee’s view, immediate implementation of an industry standard of 25 percent for television advertising, as suggested by the FTC, would signify meaningful self-restraint in alcohol marketing to reduce youth exposure. Based on data provided by the Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth (CAMY) at Georgetown University, a 25 percent threshold would have a modest, but significant, effect on the volume of alcohol advertising on television and on the number of young people exposed to it. The current 50 percent voluntary standard for beer and spirits precludes advertising on only 6 percent of the television programs tracked by Nielsen if the denominator for the viewing population encompasses viewers as young as 2 and only 1 percent of the programs if the viewing population base excludes children under 12. A 25 percent threshold would preclude alcohol advertising on 16.4 percent of programs if the base includes children under 12 and 8.2 percent if it excludes children under 12.
Over time, the industry standard should move toward a 15 percent threshold for television advertising,7 a standard currently being considered
According to figures provided to the committee by the Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth, a 15 percent threshold would preclude alcohol advertising on 34.0 percent of programs if the base includes children under 12 and 19.2 percent if it excludes children under 12.