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Alcohol ads lead to young people’s consumption, they should be more regulated, experts say


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PISCATAWAY, NJ – The marketing of alcoholic beverages is one of the causes of child consumption, public health experts conclude. For this reason, countries should abandon what are often fragmentary and voluntary codes to limit alcohol marketing and build government-imposed laws to limit exposure to alcohol marketing and appeal to young people.

These conclusions stem from a series of eight review articles published as a supplement to the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, which summarized the results of 163 studies on advertising and alcohol consumption in young people.

“[T]here is compelling evidence that exposure to alcohol marketing is one of the causes of the onset of alcohol consumption during adolescence and also one of the causes of binge drinking, “write James D. Sargent, MD, of C. Everett Koop Institute of Dartmouth, and Thomas F. Babor, Ph.D., MPH, of the University of Connecticut, in a conclusion to the supplement.

Each of the eight review articles in the supplement assessed a different aspect of marketing and drinking alcohol among young people. The reviews covered hundreds of studies that used different research projects and measurement techniques and the data came from a variety of countries and scientific disciplines.

The authors of the reviews used the Bradford Hill criteria – a well-known framework to determine the causal links between environmental exposures and diseases – to determine if marketing is a cause of youth alcohol use. The same criteria have been used to establish that smoking is a cause of cancer and that the marketing of tobacco is one of the causes of youthful smoking. Hill’s causality criteria imply determining the strength of the association, the coherence of the link, the specificity of the association, the temporal precedence of the advertising display, the biological and psychological plausibility, the experimental evidence and the analogy with exposures similar to the health risk (eg tobacco advertising).

Sargent and Babor note that each of the Bradford Hill criteria was met in the eight reviews, supporting a modest but significant association between alcohol advertising and youth drinking.

Although such a relationship had previously been known, this is the first time that a public health expert has explicitly concluded that advertising causes drinking among teenagers. Accordingly, the authors recommend the following:

  • Government agencies – independent of the alcohol industry – are expected to limit alcohol marketing exposures in the adolescent population. Often, advertising restrictions only apply to certain hours of television broadcast, to certain types of drinks or to certain formats. In addition, the new promotional methods on social media are even less regulated. “Although legal bans can be circumvented,” the authors write, “research suggests that they are much more effective than voluntary codes.”
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or the General Surgeon’s Office should sponsor a series of reports on alcohol and health, similar to those published on tobacco. Reports from these government agencies may serve as a guide for public health policy, but there have been few reports on child drinking and no reports on alcohol marketing and its effects.
  • The United States National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism is expected to resurrect its program to fund research on alcohol marketing and vulnerable populations. Studies on this topic need to be continued and funding has recently been directed to other priorities. “[I]it is disappointing that market research on alcohol is no longer a NIAAA programmatic priority, “the authors write.
  • A larger international group of public health experts should be convened to reach a broader consensus, particularly in relation to digital marketing. An international agreement is also needed to limit the marketing of alcohol in line with the United Nations Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.

To the extent that modest causal evidence has been found in a number of countries and plausible mechanisms have been identified as possible mediation factors, Sargent and Babor expressed hope that the results will promote “thoughtful speech among researchers, effective prevention measures. among politicians, and an effort to reach consensus on this issue among a larger and more representative group of scientists. “


The publication – “Alcohol Marketing and young people’s consumption: is there a causal relationship?” (Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, Supplement 19 – was funded by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. All articles in the supplement are open access on the magazine’s website (http: // www.jsad.com) as of February 24, 2020.

Sargent, J. D., & Babor, T. F. (2020). The relationship between exposure to alcohol marketing and underage drinking is causal. Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, Supplement 19, 113-124. doi: 10.15.2588 / jsads.2020.s19.113

To arrange an interview with James D. Sargent, M.D., please contact Tim Dean at the Dartmouth Geisel School of Medicine Communications & Marketing (603-455-3478 or [email protected]).

The Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs (Http: // www.jsad.com) is published by the Center of Alcohol & Substance Use Studies at Rutgers, New Jersey State University. It is the oldest substance magazine published in the United States.

For information on education and training opportunities for addiction counselors and others at the Rutgers Alcohol and Substance Use Study Center, visit https: //education.alcoholstudies.Rutgers.edu /education-training.

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