Election Day is just under three months from now, and it's clear the role of government is shaping up as a key issue. Across the board -- from local elections to the one which will determine our next president -- voters are considering the place of government in creating jobs, assisting the less fortunate, and ensuring the health and safety of our nation's youth.
In public health, we're mindful of this consideration each and every day. Consider the case of alcohol, the number one drug among young people, and responsible for 4,700 deaths among those under 21 every year. Through policy, it is possible to dramatically reduce these deaths by preventing youth from starting to drink.
With this in mind, we recently examined how each of the 50 states is addressing youth exposure to alcohol advertising. Specifically, we looked at the measures states could be using, specifically the extent to which states' alcohol advertising laws incorporate the following:
The results were dismal. Twenty-two states had no best practices across the eight policies. Even the state with the "most" (Virginia) had only five. It's like looking at a class of fifty students where the top student scores a barely passing grade. As we concluded at the time, given the fact states have substantial jurisdiction over alcohol marketing as outlined in the 21st Amendment of the Constitution, it's a pity to see how inactive they are in this legislative and regulatory arena.
Here's why this matters. At least 14 long-term studies have found that the more young people are exposed to alcohol advertising and marketing, the more likely they are to drink, or if they are already drinking, to drink more. And if young people like alcohol ads, they are more likely to have positive expectancies about alcohol use and to intend to drink or to drink.
The consequences are severe. Alcohol kills more teenagers every year than any illegal drug, and the cost of underage drinking in our society is conservatively estimated by the CDC at $27 billion annually. Adolescent alcohol use plays a substantial role in all three leading causes of death among youth -- unintentional injuries (including motor vehicle fatalities and drownings), suicides, and homicide, and is also associated with risky sexual behavior and addiction.
Federal regulations do not specifically prohibit alcohol advertisements that appeal to youth. Currently in the U.S., there is a self-imposed and self-regulated commitment on behalf of industry (trade groups for beer, wine and distilled spirits) to place alcohol ads in media venues only when underage persons comprise less than 28.4 percent percent of the audience.
Our Center monitors the marketing practices of the alcohol industry to determine how well they are adhering to this commitment. Here's what we know:
With the evidence clear that the industry's threshold has been ineffective in reducing youth exposure on television, either in absolute or in relative terms, a number of groups and officials, including the National Research Council, the Institute of Medicine and 24 state attorneys general, have called upon the alcohol industry to strengthen its standard and meet a "proportional" 15 percent placement standard, given that the group most at risk for underage drinking -- 12- to 20-year-olds -- is less than 15 percent of the U.S. population.
The world of advertising and marketing is changing all around us, and alcohol regulation and enforcement are not keeping up. The question is clear: Is government doing enough to protect our children from the influence of alcohol marketing? We know how to do it. And with 4,700 young people dying every year as a result of alcohol, it's time we put the health and safety of children first.