Exposure to alcohol advertising can change the attitudes of teens about the beverage and can cause them to start drinking, according to a study that may lead to new policy recommendations for television commercials. The study, published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, used a framework developed to show causality between tobacco advertising and youth smoking and applied it to alcohol advertising.
According to the researchers, including those from New York University in the US, youth are particularly vulnerable to the influence of advertising due to their potential for forming brand loyalties at an early age, limited skepticism, and high use of social media — where alcohol marketing is also increasingly found. They said teen alcohol use is a major public health problem, with negative consequences ranging from injuries, including those from car crashes, to risky sexual behaviour, to damage to the developing brain.
“The conclusion that the association between exposure to tobacco advertising and adolescent tobacco use are causally allowed for policy development that justified further regulation of tobacco advertising aimed at youth,” said study co-author Michael Weitzman from NYU. “The conclusion also set the framework to investigate a potentially analogous relationship with alcohol,” Weitzman said.
In the current study, the researchers used a well-known framework for determining causal links between environmental exposures and disease called the Bradford Hill criteria. Using the framework, they determined whether marketing is a cause of youth alcohol use, focusing on the criterion that relies on analogous relationships already established as causals such as tobacco advertising and use.
The scientists found that in every aspect studied, the influence of tobacco and alcohol advertising on teens were analogous. They said both tobacco and alcohol companies have used mascots in advertisements, which research showed were easily recognised and trusted by children. In addition, the study noted that both tobacco and alcohol companies used or have used movies, television, and sporting events as opportunities for advertising and product placement.
According to the researchers, neighbourhoods with large numbers of tobacco retailers expose youth to more tobacco advertising, and make it easier to buy cigarettes, a finding, they said, held true for alcohol retailer density as well. They also said that tobacco and alcohol retailers were often found near schools.
“The association of alcohol and tobacco advertising exposure and adolescent perceptions, knowledge of, and use of these substances are remarkably similar, adding to the much-needed evidence that the association between alcohol advertising and teen alcohol use is causal in nature,” Weitzman said.