Liquor Industry Disputes Findings of Study on Underage Drinking
(CNSNews.com) – More underage drinkers prefer a specific brand of distilled spirits, and some of the blame lies with TV advertising, according to a recent study by a group at Dartmouth College.
However, the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States (DISCUS) disputes the findings, citing government-backed numbers that have shown a consistent decline in underage drinking.
“This inconsistency is logical, given that research shows most youth do not purchase alcohol themselves at a retail outlet but rather obtain alcohol from parents and other adults,” David Ozgo, a senior vice president for DISCUS, told CNSNews.com. “In other words, they drink whatever products they have access to.”
The study surveyed 2,699 people between ages 16 and 20 found that almost a quarter admitted to binge drinking. Of the binge drinkers, the study found 68 percent endorsed a favorite brand, naming 158 brands in all.
A distilled spirit brand was named by 53 percent, while a beer brand was named by 42 percent.
The alcohol industry spent $1.7 billion in 2009 on TV advertising, according to the study. More than one-third of females and almost a third of males said they did not have a brand preference.
The Dartmouth study, published in the July 2011 issue of the Archives of Pediatric & Adolescents Medicine, does not directly correlate TV advertising with underage drinking, according to one of the study’s authors.
“There is no study saying this action by the distilled spirits companies caused this,” said David Jernigan, director of the Center for Alcohol Marketing and Youth (CAMY) at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
Jernigan said the study found two things, including “a high level of advertising expenditures, and on the other hand, young people saying they prefer those brands, not necessarily that they consume those brands.” A future study will examine consumption, he said.
The Dartmouth study “is cross-sectional research, so it’s happening only at one point in time, and all we can say is there is some association,” Jernigan told CNSNews.com. “We can’t say it is causal. But we have good data saying two things are definitely happening in the same place at the same time.”
CAMY is funded by a $4-million grant awarded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in 2009. The grant money was available through the 2006 STOP Act (Sober Truth on Preventing Underage Drinking Act). The law is broadly aimed at reducing underage drinking through national media campaigns, community-based anti-drug programs and research on underage drinking.
CAMY is the only organization to get STOP Act money through the CDC, and it was a competitive grant, Jernigan said.
Although the early 1990s saw a pause in the steady decline of underage drinking from the previous decade, the decline has resumed since the late 1990s, according to a 2010 “Monitoring the Future” survey released by the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
“For 12th graders, 2010 marks the lowest level of alcohol use since the study’s inception in 1975,” the survey said. “For 8th and 10th graders, it marks the lowest point since these grades were first included in the study in 1991.”
Jernigan said, “There are so many things happening in local communities trying to get these numbers down. The fact that they are going down is a good thing. They are not going down nearly as fast as they should, and that is where advertising plays a role. This assumes advertising is the only thing in the environment. That’s just not true.”
Jernigan cited two 2006 studies that considered how a reduction in alcohol advertising could affect underage drinking.
“A complete ban on alcohol advertising would reduce deaths from harmful drinking
by 7,609 and result in a 16.4% decrease in alcohol-related life-years lost,” said a study by the Seattle-based Harborview Injury and Prevention Center. “A partial advertising ban would result in a 4% reduction in alcohol-related life-years lost.”
A study by Henry Saffer, an economist with Kean University, and Dhaval Dave, an economist with Bentley University, found binge drinking would go down by between 8 percent and 33 percent if alcohol advertising were reduced by 28 percent.
France imposed the strictest anti-alcohol rules of any country in 1991, reducing on-air advertising and reducing wine production, which led to a 25 percent drop in alcohol consumption, Jernigan noted.
The Federal Trade Commission allows industry leaders to set voluntary guidelines on alcohol advertising, a system Jernigan said does not work. However, he does not believe the current system can be changed in the current political and legal environment, and he said he does not advocate a ban on alcohol advertising.
The FTC repeatedly has found that that the industry markets to adults, said Ozgo of the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States. Further, he said the industry has a strict code of responsible practices.
“The Distilled Spirits Council and its member companies have been and remain opposed to underage drinking,” Ozgo said. “Once again, however, David Jernigan’s advocacy-driven research suggests policy avenues that will have no impact on reducing underage drinking, but rather mislead the public and public officials and divert attention from strategies that are truly effective.”