Underage drinkers are often exposed to advertisements for alcoholic beverages, according to new research.
In fact, teenagers are frequently more likely than adults to see magazine advertisements for liquor, according to the report by the Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth at Georgetown University.
Youths ages 12 to 20 see 45 percent more beer ads in magazines, and 27 percent more ads for liquor than adults 21 and older, according to the report, which is being officially released today.
Jim O'Hara, the center's executive director, said the findings show there should be much stricter monitoring of advertising by the alcohol industry.
"America's parents should be disturbed by these findings," O'Hara said. "They aren't seeing these ads but their children are because that's where the industry is putting them -- in the magazines their children read."
Industry officials rejected the group's findings, questioning both their methodology and their biases. Dan Tearno, the vice president for corporate affairs at Heineken USA, complained that the group's definition of a youth-oriented magazine is much too strict. He said his company only advertises in magazines that have audiences who are, mostly, old enough to drink. That includes, he said, many magazines the research group considers to be significantly aimed at readers younger than 21.
In 1999 the Federal Trade Commission reported to Congress on the issue after public concern on advertising's role in underage drinking. It recommended that the industry, which regulates itself on advertising, adopt stricter guidelines.
O'Hara said that his group would be forwarding the research to the FTC to ask it to revisit the issue in the light of obvious failings.
"We have shown that the industry is falling far short of the kind of steps that the FTC said should be taken to protect youth," he said.
The center's researchers used data from Mediamark Research Inc., which provided details on 80 percent of all alcohol advertising in magazines in 2001, and compared it with separate research on how much each magazine was seen by teenagers or adults. The work was funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
The study identified certain brands as being particularly targeted at the magazines teenagers read. Teens saw nearly 80 percent more advertisements than adults for Heineken and Fosters beer, compared with just 8 percent more ads for Budweiser.
In the "alcopop" market teenagers saw about twice as many ads as adults for Kahlua Black Russian Cocktail, and 75 percent more for Doc Otis' Hard Lemon Malt Beverage or Rick's Spiked Lemonade.
O'Hara acknowledged that advertisers trying to reach the twentysomething group by advertising in magazines such as Rolling Stone, Sports Illustrated and In Style would inevitably also reach the teenagers who read those magazines.
"But if you want to reduce your underage exposure, you would probably choose not to advertise in certain magazines, this is a choice you make because you want to be responsible. . . . I think the actions of these companies speak very loudly," he said.
Helen Rumbelow, Washington Post. September 24, 2002
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