Here’s what one public health expert wishes the alcohol industry would do to protect kids (Excerpt)
by German Lopez
February 4, 2016
Kids aren’t supposed to drink alcohol. But in the US, booze is everywhere. It’s hard to grow up without being exposed to alcohol advertising. And those ads are working a little too well: Several long-term studies have found that higher exposure to alcohol ads correlates with an increase in drinking among youth.
That’s a big problem: Drinking at a young age, according to numerous studies, can lead to detrimental effects, from dependence to earlier development of liver cirrhosis.
That’s why the alcohol industry takes steps to stop ads from reaching people under 21.
For the industry, part of this is economical: It’s more profitable to show ads to people who can legally buy alcohol. But there’s also a self-interest in avoiding the ire of public health officials who wouldn’t be happy with the industry advertising to youth.
So the industry self-regulates to limit alcohol advertising so that no more than 28.4 percent of its ads’ audiences are people under 21. (State and federal laws can’t impose such standards due to constitutional protections for speech, including advertising.)
But is the industry really doing all it can to avoid youth audiences? David Jernigan, an alcohol policy expert at Johns Hopkins University, and two of his colleagues looked at this question in a recent study published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs.
The authors found that the industry has room to improve. They recommend alcohol makers figure out which of their television ad campaigns, television networks, and time slots have exposed more underage people to their ads. They also recommend where companies can put better safeguards on advertising for low-rated programs, which have very unpredictable age demographics.
If the industry adopted these three measures, Jernigan’s study found it could eliminate a majority of ads that slip through to youth – from 2005 to 2012, these restrictions would have cut nearly 13 billion instances of exposure to youth each year.
I reached out to Jernigan to discuss his study and why it’s important to prevent youth exposure to alcohol ads. What follows is the interview, edited for length and clarity.