Alcohol: Alcohol advertising targets youth


USA Did you know that by the time a boy is 12 years old, he knows what kind of beer he likes, even though he doesn’t drink?

Debate on lower drinking age bubbling up

August 14,? 2007??
Alex Johnson
Proponents say current restriction drives teen alcohol use underground.
Over the strong objection of federal safety officials, a quiet movement to lower the legal drinking age to 18 is taking root as advocates argue that teenagers who are allowed to vote and fight for their country should also be able to enjoy a beer or two.
The proposal, which is the subject of a national petition drive by the National Youth Rights Association, has been studied in a handful of states in recent years, including Florida, Wisconsin, Vermont and Missouri, where supporters are pushing a ballot initiative.
Opponents of the idea point to a reported rise in binge drinking as teenagers increasingly turn to hard liquor as proof that minors should not be allowed to drink, but proponents look at the same data and draw the opposite conclusion.
“Raising the drinking age to 21 was passed with the very best of intentions, but it’s had the very worst of outcomes,” said David J. Hanson, an alcohol policy expert at the State University of New York-Potsdam. “Just like during national Prohibition, the law has pushed and forced underage drinking and youthful drinking underground, where we have no control over it.”
But Mark Rosenker, chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, countered: “Why would we repeal or weaken laws that save lives? It doesn’t make sense.”
Different laws in different states
As it happens, there is no such thing as a “federal legal drinking age.” Many states do not expressly prohibit minors from drinking alcohol, although most of those do set certain conditions, such as its use in a religious ceremony or in the presence of a parent or other guardian.
The phrase refers instead to a patchwork of state laws adopted in the mid-1980s under pressure from Congress, which threatened in 1984 to withhold 10 percent of federal highway funds from states that did not prohibit selling alcohol to those under the age of 21. By 1988, 49 states had complied; after years of court fights, Louisiana joined the crowd in 1995.
State-by-state DRINKING LAWS
All states ban selling alcohol to minors, and nearly all prohibit possession, but many do not expressly bar minors from consuming it Click on a state to see its restrictions.
Under 21 may not possess or consume alcohol. research/Alex Johnson. Sources: State codes and constitutions; National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism; Alcohol Policy Information System; State University of New York-Potsdam.?
Libertarian groups and some conservative economic foundations, seeing the age limits as having been extorted by Washington, have long championed lowering the drinking age. But in recent years, many academics and non-partisan policy groups have joined their cause for a different reason: The age restriction does not work, they say. Drinking has gone on behind closed doors and underground, where responsible adults cannot keep an eye on it.
“It does not reduce drinking. It has simply put young adults at greater risk,” said John M. McCardell, former president of Middlebury College in Vermont, who this year set up a non-profit organization called Choose Responsibility to push for a lower drinking age.
McCardell offers what he calls a simple challenge:
“The law was changed in 1984, and the law had a very specific purpose, and that was to prohibit drinking among those under the age of 21,” he said. “The only way to measure the success of that law is to ask ourselves whether, 23 years later, those under 21 are not drinking.”
So are they?
The federal government’s National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that in 2005, the most recent year for which complete figures are available, 85 percent of 20-year-old Americans reported that they had used alcohol. Two out of five said they had binged — that is, consumed five or more drinks at one time — within the previous month.

Potentially lethal combination – Alcohol advertising targets youth

May 9, 2007
By LeAnn R. Ralph

Did you know that by the time a boy is 12 years old, he knows what kind of beer he likes, even though he doesn’t drink?

Did you know that 25 percent of all children in this country report that they have been drunk by the age of 14?

And did you also know that nearly half of all children who drink by the age of 15 will become alcoholics?

None of these statistics are an accident or the result of a poor educational system — or poor parenting. Instead, the blame lies solely with the advertising media in the United States, says Dr. Peter DeBennedittis.

One of America’s leading experts on media education and prevention, DeBenne-dittis spoke at an event Thursday sponsored by the Dunn County Partnership for Youth and Arbor Place, Inc.

In the United States, 85 percent of all advertising media (including television, newspapers and radio) are owned by six corporations with a total board of directors numbering right around 150 people, said DeBennedittis, who noted that he ran an advertising agency for 10 years.

Those few people “have freedom of speech, and the rest of us pay for it,” he said.

Targeting children

Companies that sell alcoholic beverages deny that they are targeting their advertising campaigns toward children.

If you don’t believe that alcohol advertisements target children, think about the commercials shown during the Super Bowl every year, DeBennedittis reported. A total of 14 million children younger than the age of 11 watch the Super Bowl.

The commercials with which many people are familiar include the Budweiser frogs — and now the Budweiser lizards. Even though those commercials do not necessarily appear to be targeting children, that is exactly what they are doing, DeBennedittis said.

Children are attracted to commercials that include music, cute animals and humor, he said. And because the children are attracted to the funny frogs and lizards in the commercials, they begin to identify with that product.

Brain functioning

Encouraging young people to drink has physical consequences as well. When young teenagers get drunk, on average they lose 10 percent of their brain’s ability to process information, DeBennedittis said.

In fact, one-fourth of the eighth graders in this country — the ones who reported having been drunk by the age of 14 — will suffer from a 10 percent, permanent loss of brain function.

It’s a statistic that is not lost on the companies that sell alcoholic beverages.

“Stupidity is glorified in their advertisements … 150 people in this country want to keep us all drunk and stupid,” DeBennedittis said.

Drinking alone

Another television advertisement he highlighted shows a young man standing alone on a balcony holding a bottled alcoholic beverage in one hand. An attractive young woman stood on a balcony below him.

The man throws the bottle cap at the woman to get her attention. She goes down to the street to retrieve bottle cap and brings it back to him. Throughout the commercial, the man never speaks a word to the woman.

Grown men, DeBennedittis pointed out, do not throw objects at women to get their attention — they talk to them.

Adolescents, on the other hand, will throw things at girls to get their attention, even though they might be afraid to talk to them.

The advertisement clearly was meant to encourage adolescents to identify with the young man standing on a balcony drinking alone.

“Everything you need to learn to become an alcoholic is right there in the ads,” DeBennedittis said, portraying it as “normal” to drink alone. But in real life, he noted, drinking alone on a regular basis is one of the signs of alcoholism because it indicates a desire to hide the behavior.

High school students

When DeBennedittis speaks at high schools, he asks if it is true that 70 percent of all Americans older than the age of 21 consume most of the alcoholic beverages sold in this country.

Many of the students will agree.

The truth, however, is that one-third of the population drinks 20 percent of the booze (two drinks a week or less), one-third of the population consumes 80 percent, and the other one-third of the population does not drink at all.

In other words, two-thirds of all Americans either consume two drinks a week or fewer — or do not drink at all.

“But because kids see it on TV, that’s how they think the world drinks … [the alcoholic beverage companies’] advertising needs to direct people toward alcoholism to keep their profits up,” DeBennedittis said. “On TV, it’s always Miller time … and Budweiser’s new tag line is, ‘always worth it.’”

No matter what the expert says, though, the high school students go on believing that a majority of Americans drink most of the alcohol that is sold — until he asks them to stand up if one of their parents does not drink.

DeBennedittis says he has asked this question in high schools all across the country — in urban and in rural areas alike — and the results are always the same: one-third of the students will stand up because one or the other of their parents does not drink.

Alcohol and crime

Consumption of alcoholic beverages does not just affect the individuals who are involved. Half of the arrests made in America are alcohol-related, and most murders, assaults and rapes are alcohol related.

Among college students, 1,400 deaths occur each year because of alcohol. Another 500,000 college students are injured due to alcohol consumption when they get into car accidents or do things like fall out windows or fall down steps.

In addition, 600,000 assaults or fights occur each year among college students because of alcohol consumption, and 70,000 rapes are related to alcohol, DeBennedittis reported.


Advertisements for alcoholic beverages are not the only culprits, however. All advertising is meant to diminish the self-esteem of the target audience, to make them fearful and encourage them to purchase the product to control their fear.

Because advertisements are filmed over and over again until they are flawless, they cost between $2 million and $4 million to produce. Companies then spend another $20 million to $40 million to broadcast those advertisements.

“When you’re talking about that kind of money, they’re not screwing around here,” DeBennedittis said, adding that the advertisements set up magical expectations and encourage emotional transfer to the product.

“The product always has the ability to make everything better,” he explained.

What to do

Since 85 percent of the advertising is controlled by six corporations, is there anything anyone can do?

“Yes — we need to get the tax laws changed,” he said.

Tax breaks and tax deductions should be removed for companies that target children younger than 17 years old and that sell products that are harmful to children.

“You can make a difference, and you can start in your own community,” said DeBennedittis.

One way is to pass local ordinances that require warning labels on alcohol advertising (billboards, local newspapers and magazines and local radio and television broadcasts) with warnings that it is illegal to provide alcohol to underage people.

For more information about how advertisements for alcohol target children and to find media literacy materials (some of which are available as free downloads), visit DeBennedittis’s Web site at

One example of the information contained on the Web site is that if children watch a NASCAR race, they can be exposed to the Budweiser image up to 6,000 times.

LeAnn Ralph can be reached at

Antis: What to expect

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