Study: Alcohol Advertising Increases Drinking

A new study says that alcohol advertising contributes to increased drinking among youth. Researchers looked at 1,872 teenagers and young adults aged 15 to 26. What they found was that the number of ads a person reported viewing was correlated with the amount of alcohol they consumed.

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If you've been watching a lot of college bowl games, you've seen them. And if you plan to watch the NFL playoffs and the Super Bowl, then you'll be seeing even more. We're talking about beer ads on television. They're supposed to make you want to buy the beer, of course. Now a study claims the ads also make teens and people in their early 20s drink more. NPR's Joseph Shapiro reports.

JOSEPH SHAPIRO reporting:

Some of those ads make you groan; some of them make you laugh.

(Soundbite of commercial)

Unidentified Man #1: Self-defense, first rule, is 90 percent instinct.

SHAPIRO: This one shows a karate instructor and the little gray-haired lady who's his student facing off over a six-pack.

(Soundbite of commercial)

Unidentified Man #1: Now what if I tried to take your Bud Light?

(Soundbite of commercial)

Unidentified Man #2: Bud Light: fresh, smooth, real. It's all here.

SHAPIRO: Beer and liquor makers spent around a billion dollars on television advertising last year. The rules are that those ads are supposed to be aimed at adults, but Leslie Snyder says it's often teens and young adults who are most influenced. Snyder runs the Center for Health Communication and Marketing at the University of Connecticut. She asked nearly 2,000 15- to 26-year-olds to recall the beer and alcohol ads they'd seen or heard, not just on TV but on radio, in magazines and on billboards.

Ms. LESLIE SNYDER (Center for Health Communication and Marketing, University of Connecticut): What we found is that youth who saw more ads drank more.

SHAPIRO: Snyder wanted to be sure that it wasn't simply that people who watch a lot of TV do a lot of drinking anyway.

Ms. SNYDER: So it's not simply that people who are couch potatoes tend to drink more.

SHAPIRO: She compared advertising markets. It turned out that where young people live makes a difference.

Ms. SNYDER: Youth living in a place that had lots of alcohol ads drank more each month than youth who lived in places where there weren't a lot of alcohol ads.

SHAPIRO: Snyder's study appears in the current issue of the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine. She says lawmakers should consider limiting the time of day beer ads are shown on TV or even banning them from sports shows. Jeff Becker of the Beer Institute, an industry trade group, says the researchers got it wrong.

Mr. JEFF BECKER (Beer Institute): Censoring advertising isn't going to create less underage drinking.

SHAPIRO: He says the public should support other things that have been shown to help reduce underage drinking.

Mr. BECKER: What we do know is that parents taking an active role, peers having taken an active role, have resulted in significant declines in underage drinking, and we're better off talking about doing those things than, I think, some of the issues raised in her study.

SHAPIRO: Barrett Seaman is the author of "Binge"; it looks at drinking on college campuses.

Mr. BARRETT SEAMAN (Author, "Binge"): I think you can overestimate the power of advertising in this problem.

SHAPIRO: Seaman says the biggest motivators are cultural and create furtive drinking and binge drinking.

Mr. SEAMAN: In our society, we have defined adulthood as being 18 or older for everything except alcohol. Young people want to have that which they can't have even more, so they go about drinking, I think, with a vengeance because they're drinking in kind of a social vacuum.

SHAPIRO: Still, Seaman says beer ads are clearly designed to appeal to the young, from the plot lines to the characters.

Mr. SEAMAN: They're all young. Sometimes they're making kind of stupid gaffes. It usually involves young guys going after women or women flaunting themselves in front of young guys, and a beer is almost always a piece of the action. Those are ads that are not designed for sophisticated, older drinkers; they're designed for young people.

SHAPIRO: The number of beer ads on TV is up, but beer drinking is down nationwide. Some beer companies now are talking about changing those jokey commercials to present a more sophisticated image of beer drinkers.

Joseph Shapiro, NPR News.

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