Specialists say alcohol advertisements result in youth ingesting, wants extra regulation

Experts say that alcohol advertising leads to drinking among adolescents and requires more regulation

The marketing of alcoholic beverages is a cause of underage drinking, according to new research in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs. For this reason, experts in the public health sector believe that countries should often dispense with piece-by-piece and voluntary codes to restrict alcohol marketing and legislate to limit the marketing presence and attractiveness of messages to young people.

These conclusions come from a series of eight reviews published as a supplement to JSAD, which summarize the results of 163 studies on alcohol advertising and youth consumption.

"There is convincing evidence that exposure to alcohol marketing is a cause of the onset of alcohol consumption in adolescence and also a cause of alcohol excesses," writes Dr. James D. Sargent of the C Everett Koop Institute in Dartmouth and Dr. Thomas F. Babor. MPH from the University of Connecticut to complete the supplement.

In each of the eight review articles in the supplement, a different aspect of alcohol marketing and alcohol consumption among young people was assessed. The reviews looked at hundreds of studies using different research designs and measurement techniques, and the data came from different countries and scientific disciplines.

The authors of the reviews used the Bradford Hill criteria – a well-known framework to determine the causal link between environmental exposure and disease – to determine whether marketing is a cause of adolescent alcohol consumption. The criteria include determining aspects such as the strength of the association, the consistency of the compound, the time of exposure to the result and the biological and psychological plausibility.

Each of the criteria was met in the eight reviews, which supports a modest but meaningful association between advertising and drinking.

Although such a relationship was already known, it is the first time that a public health expert has explicitly concluded that advertising among young people leads to alcohol consumption. As a result, the authors recommend the following:

  • Government agencies, regardless of the alcohol industry, should limit exposure to alcohol marketing among the youth population.
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or the General Surgeon's Office should sponsor a series of reports on alcohol and health that are similar to those published on tobacco.
  • The US National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism should revive its program to fund research into alcohol marketing and vulnerable populations.
  • A larger international panel of public health experts should be convened to build a broader consensus, especially with regard to digital marketing.

Sargent and Babor expressed the hope that the results would "foster thoughtful discourse among researchers, effective preventive measures among policy-makers, and efforts to build consensus on this issue among a larger and more representative group of scientists."