An undergraduate student who conducted an Internet survey to estimate teen use of alcohol would probably receive a very low, if not a failing grade. That’s because the Internet survey would necessarily be completely unscientific and violate the most basic principles of legitimate survey research. Therefore, the results would be unreliable and misleading.
Established research ethics require that the results of an Internet survey be clearly identified as unscientific in order to alert and protect the public. However, the American Medical Association failed to disclose in its press release the unscientific nature of its widely publicized reports suggesting that most flavored malt beverages (so-called “alcopopps”) are consumed by teenagers and other “findings.” . Not surprisingly, its findings are highly inconsistent with federal and other research on the subject.
The AMA also asserts, without any evidence whatsoever, that alcopops are aggressively marketed to underage people. It insists that “parents should be outraged” that these beverages “clearly target” underage persons. 1 That’s strong language.
However, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has thoroughly investigated that charge several times in recent years. It has carefully examined internal company documents, product placement in stores across the country, data presented by alcohol activist groups, and much other evidence.
In each and every case the FTC has found no evidence of industry targeting of those who are underage. It has found, however, that the majority of those who consume the sweet drinks in question are over age 27. 2
Regardless of industry actions, alcohol consumption by young people continues to drop. For example, among those age 12-17, about half were regular drinkers in 1979; today fewer than one in five are, according to federal surveys. 3
Similarly, the proportion of entering college freshmen last year who drank fell to the lowest level in the 38-year history of the American College Freshman survey conducted annually by UCLA and the American Council on Education. 4
To be successful, the fight against underage drinking must be based on education, facts and sound science, and not by scapegoating so-called alcopops on the basis of an unscientific and unreliable online poll.