Study Examines Alcohol Advertising Appearing in Magazines

When it comes to advertising the alcohol industry does its own regulating. Television advertising is ruled by a set of regulations that discourages alcohol marketers from running ads during times that the underage population is most likely to watch television. While not a foolproof system, the regulations do seek to reduce child and teen exposure to alcohol images. When it comes to other types of advertising, however, it may be more difficult to determine the audience.

A new study conducted by the Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth (CAMY) at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health questions whether the current standards imposed by federal regulators and the industry’s self-regulation do enough to protect public health. The findings appear in the American Journal of Public Health.

Magazines are chosen by advertisers based on the perceived audience, but it may be harder to determine who might be exposed to an image long after its intended recipient has finished reading it.

In an examination of nearly 1,800 ads for beer, spirits and alcopops that ran in magazines from 2008 to 2010, the researchers determined that the ads largely adhered to existing standards. However, many of the ads included images or verbiage that promoted unhealthy behaviors related to alcohol consumption.

For instance, many of the ads included images that showed one or more sexualized women appearing in scanty clothing. The advertisements also sometimes encouraged the association of alcohol consumption with an active lifestyle or a desire to achieve weight control.

Study author Katherine C. Smith, associate professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, says in situations where advertising has the potential to reach underage readers the public health community must be aware of the magazine ad content.

The researchers say that the findings indicate there may be a need for stricter regulations and oversight by the federal government. This recommendation would give the federal government a watchdog role over a major industry. Between 2008 and 2010, alcohol marketers spent $847 million on magazine advertising.

The level of current federal involvement in regulating alcohol advertising is low. Broad regulations prevent marketers from making false claims or any health claims. Generally, advertising age standards are monitored by the alcohol industry’s Beer Institute and the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States.

Study author and CAMY director David Jernigan says that while the regulations were purposely designed to allow self-regulation by the industry, it is important for the public health community to ask what more can be done to protect the underage population.

The authors noted that the self-regulation by the alcohol marketing industry could be compared to the self-regulation that existed among tobacco marketers. While regulations may be set up to allow for some protection, they may, in fact, allow for unhealthy approaches to advertising that do not protect the public.

Fourteen previous studies have shown a connection between alcohol ad exposure and underage drinking. The authors of this new study recommend tightening regulations regarding when and where the advertisement for alcohol can be placed to protect underage consumers.

Parents can help reduce the influence that alcohol advertising can have by talking with their teens about the ads they see. Discussing why certain images are used to promote products may help teens see advertising more clearly.

In addition to talking about advertising and marketing, parents can talk with their teens about the risks associated with alcohol consumption, including injury, risky sexual behaviors, vandalism or assault.