Explosion of Alcohol Ads on Cable Television

by David J. Hanson, Ph.D.

There’s been an explosion in the exposure of young people to alcohol beverage ads on cable television, claims the Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth (CAMY), an anti-alcohol activist organization devoted to creating public “outrage“ against alcohol advertising. Its website calls for various prohibitions on such ads, which it says are jeopardizing the health and safety of America’s youth. 1

CAMY’s research reports have a reputation for being shoddy and misleading. But regardless of the questionable credibility of CAMY’s claims, there’s a more fundamental problem with prohibitions on ads. Alcohol ads neither increase drinking nor cause non-drinkers to become drinkers. That’s the conclusion of scientific research conducted for decades around the world by governments, health agencies, and universities. Successful alcohol ads can increase a producer’s share of the market, which it obtains at the expense of its competitors’ share. That’s all they do, and the federal government recognizes this fact. 2

Although alcohol ads might be increasing on cable television, government and university research repeatedly demonstrates dramatic declines in youthful drinking. The facts speak for themselves.

For example, the proportion of young people aged 12 through 17 who have consumed any alcohol during the previous month has plummeted from 50% in 1979 to 17.6 in 2002, according to the federal government's annual National Survey on Drug Use and Health. 3

The proportion of college freshmen who drink continues to decrease. Freshmen entering in 2003 reported the lowest rates of drinking in the 38-year history of the national college Freshman Survey. The proportion reporting occasional or frequent beer drinking dropped to an historic low of 44.8%, down from 73.7% in 1982. Consumption of both wine and distilled spirits also dropped to record lows. 4

And drinking among high school seniors continues to drop by every measure. This, according to federally funded research by the University of Michigan’s Survey Research Center. 5

The proportion of high school seniors who have ever consumed alcohol is down.

The proportion of high school seniors who have consumed alcohol within previous year is down.

The proportion of high school seniors who have consumed alcohol within previous 30 days is down.

The proportion of high school seniors who have recently consumed alcohol daily is down.

The proportion of high school seniors who have consumed 5 or more drinks on an occasion within previous two weeks is down.

These facts, coupled with CAMY’s own acknowledgment that parents are far and away the biggest influence on teens when it comes to underage drinking, indicate clearly that there’s no sound reason to declare war on alcohol ads or to battle them on TV.


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