Alcohol Advertising Targeted to Youth May Not Cause Abuse

Alcohol Advertising Targeted to Youth May Not Cause Abuse

Table of Contents: Further Readings

“Self-Regulation of Beverage Alcohol Advertising,” ICAP Report, January 2001. Copyright © 2001 by the International Center for Alcohol Policies. Reproduced by permission.

The alcoholic beverage industry practices effective voluntary self-regulation in concert with trade associations and federal agencies, the International Center for Alcohol Policies (ICAP) argues in the following viewpoint. The center further contends that the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has concluded that the industry does not direct alcohol advertising to young audiences. Moreover, despite critics’ claims that exposure to alcohol advertising could lead youths to abuse alcohol, there is no conclusive evidence that such advertisinginfluences drinking beliefs. The International Center for Alcohol Policies, a nonprofit organization supported by eleven international beverage alcohol companies, is dedicated to reducing the abuse of alcohol worldwide.

As you read, consider the following questions:

  1. According to the center, what are the two basic elements of self-regulation?
  2. What was the conclusion of the Department of Health and Human Services regarding the effects of alcohol advertising on alcohol-related problems?

An important element of public policy is developing standards regarding how the private sector communicates information about their products. Ideally, advertising is meant to inform the public so that they can be aware of products and make informed choices among different products or brands. Advertising is, of course, also of benefit to businesses in assisting them to sell their products, which in most countries is a commercial right.

This issue of ICAP [International Center for Alcohol PoliciesReports will explore the concept of self-regulation in relation to the advertising of alcohol beverages. It will explore the elements of different codes and how they are applied in practice. It is recognized that advertising is one of several forms of commercial communication, including sponsorship, promotion and the Internet. …

Self-regulation is the process whereby industry actively participates in and is responsible for its own regulation. While this process varies widely from country to country, the foundation for advertising self-regulation is based on the principles embodied in the International Code ofAdvertising, issued by the International Chamber of Commerce. The Code states in its introduction that advertising should be legal, decent, honest and truthful, prepared with a sense of social responsibility to the consumer and society and with proper respect for the rules of fair competition. This is accomplished through rules and principles of best practice to which advertisers and the advertising industry agree to be bound.

The basic elements of self-regulation are two-fold: a code of practice or set of guiding principles governing the content of advertisements, and a process for the establishment, review and application of the code or principles. Impartiality is seen to be key to an effective code and public trust in it. …

There may be several self-regulatory bodies to which a given alcohol beverage company must adhere regarding commercial communications. …

Voluntary Advertising Codes Are the Key

The alcohol beverage industry in the United States has established separate voluntary advertising codes initiated by trade associations from each of the three sectors that make up the industry—beer, wine and distilled spirits. At the same time, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is responsible for enforcing efforts to stop “unfair or deceptive acts of practice” and recently was asked to review industry efforts to avoid promoting alcohol to underage consumers.

Generally, the three codes provide that alcohol advertising and marketing efforts should not be directed at or appeal to an audience that is primarily underage. In conducting their review, the FTC looked at issues such as advertising placement, advertising content, product placement, online advertising and college marketing, how each of these were implemented and what best practices emerged.

The FTC report concluded that “for the most part, members of the industry comply with the current standards set by the voluntary advertisingcodes, which prohibit blatant appeals to young audiences and advertising in venues where most of the audience is under the legal drinking age.” The report also noted that many individual companies had their own internal standards that exceed code requirements.

Third-party review that would provide for an independent assessment of complaints was one recommendation cited by the FTC to improve the codes still further. Several beverage alcohol companies support this recommendation in one form or another, but opinion about the need for this enhancement is divided. The best practices cited by the FTC include prohibiting ads with substantial underage appeal even if they also appeal to adults, and curbing on-campus and spring break sponsorships and advertising.

The three codes operated by the Beer Institute, the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States (DISCUS) and the Wine Institute have generally strengthened their provisions over the years. In 1997, DISCUS repealed one of its provisions which called for a ban on spirits advertising on television. This change put the DISCUS code in line with the codes of the Beer Institute and the Wine Institute on this issue. DISCUS argued that if beer and wine were allowed to advertise on television with certain restrictions, the spirits industry should be too. There was strong adverse reaction to ending the ban, which had been in place for 50 years. However, in the end, the response to this reaction was not to legislate, but for most major broadcast television networks to decline to accept spirits advertising. The spirits industry continues to strongly promote the expansion of their advertising over the broadcast media, though networks have yet to accept such advertising.

This example also illustrates that self-regulation is not simply incumbent upon the alcohol beverage industry to police itself. It acts in concert with the agencies responsible for advertising form and content as well as the media that carry the advertising. …

Research on the Effects of Advertising Is Not Conclusive

In recent years, public health advocates have called for strict regulation or elimination of alcohol advertising, and particular attention has been drawn to how alcohol advertising might affect young people. The argument that alcohol advertising is intended to create brand preference and not give cause for abuse by showing irresponsible consumption rings hollow among these critics, some of whom believe that advertisingincreases alcohol abuse and that self-regulation does little to prevent this.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recently reviewed the evidence on the effects of alcohol advertising on alcohol consumption, alcohol-related problems and drinking-related beliefs and attitudes. Studies were drawn from seven diverse fields. The overall conclusion was that survey research on alcohol advertising and young people “consistently indicates small but significant connections between exposure to and awareness of alcohol advertising and drinking beliefs and behaviors.” The report adds that taken as a whole, the survey studies provide some evidence that alcohol advertising may influence drinking beliefs but that this evidence is far from conclusive. “When all of the studies are considered, the results of research on the effects of alcohol advertising are mixed and not conclusive.” The report states that with few exceptions, recent econometric research provides “very little consistent evidence that alcohol advertising influences per capita alcohol consumption, sales or problems.”



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