Underage-Drinking Report Calls for Voluntary Alcohol Ad Cutbacks

March 9, 2007

WASHINGTON (AdAge.com) — In a call to reduce underage drinking, the acting U.S. surgeon general today urged alcohol marketers to cut back on outdoor ads and end any remaining college newspaper advertising. He also suggested colleges eliminate event sponsorships by alcohol marketers.

No new laws

Dr. Kenneth Moritsugu, the acting surgeon general, notably didn’t urge the passage of any new laws, instead suggesting colleges, media and the alcohol industry should act voluntarily.

Although the report’s guidelines go beyond current voluntary codes for outdoor advertising and college sponsorships, alcohol-industry associations said many marketing practices it cites are already barred or severely restricted by those codes. They also said that despite the new warnings, government statistics show teen alcoholism is dropping.

The report says too many people view teen drinking as a “rite of passage” when new research indicates it could have potentially serious long-term effects.

‘Disturbing research’

“Alcohol is the most widely used substance of abuse among America’s youth,” Dr. Moritsugu says in the report, adding that far more teens drink than smoke tobacco or use drugs. “I have issued this [report] to focus national attention on this problem and on new disturbing research which indicates that the developing adolescent brain may be particularly susceptible to long-term negative consequences from alcohol use.”

Instead of turning to legislation, the report urges the media, alcohol marketers, and colleges and universities to work to lower teen alcoholism. The entertainment and media industries should be sure movies, TV shows and video games do not “glamorize underage alcohol use,” the report says. They should also avoid “gratuitous portrayals of alcohol abuse in films and TV shows in which children are a major audience.”

The report also suggests alcohol marketers have a “public responsibility” to make sure their messages “do not disproportionately expose youth to messages about alcohol” and that websites and web advertising “do not especially attract or appeal to adolescents.”

Marketing codes

The Beer Institute and the Distilled Spirits Council of the U.S. said their marketing codes ban college-newspaper ads, prohibit rite-of-passage ad appeals and limit some outdoor signs. College sponsorships are banned for spirits makers and limited for brewers to venues with mostly adult audiences. Brewers ban outdoor signs within 500 feet of a school or playground.

“We already have placement and content guidelines that include no sponsorship on college campuses for distilled spirits that have been in place for years,” said Frank Coleman, senior VP, Distilled Spirits Council of the U.S.

Beer Institute President Jeff Becker said brewers “wholeheartedly agree” that advertising should be directed toward legal consumers and cited the industry’s requirement that ads be placed in media where 70% of the audience is 21 or older and requiring that ad creative aims at that audience.

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Ira Teinowitz, Advertising Age. March 6, 2007