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"While many factors may influence an underage person's drinking decisions, including among other things, parents, peers and the media, there is reason to believe that advertising also plays a role."

― Federal Trade Commission, Self-Regulation in the Alcohol Industry, 1999

Several studies have proven that the consumption of alcohol plays an important role in the 3 leading causes of death among teens and young adults―suicides, murders, and accidental deaths. Does alcohol advertising play any role in getting the youth addicted to alcohol? A recent study by V.C. Strasburger and Edward Donnerstein, in their paper titled 'Children, Adolescents, and the Media: Issues and Solutions', found that by the time a child turns 18, he will have been exposed to nearly 100,000 alcohol advertisements through varied mediums like television, newspapers, billboards, Internet, magazines, brand-related clothing, and other products. Not only is this number shocking, but it also raises an important question―is this exposure causing harm? And if it is, then should this advertising be allowed?

In this Buzzle article, we will go into the depths of the influence of this kind of advertising on the youth and the effects of the same.

Influence of Alcohol Advertising on Youth

What These Ads Stand For

Alcohol advertising may be targeted towards adults, but that does not stop the youth from receiving the message loud and clear either. In fact, the themes and objects used in these kinds of advertisements tell a different story altogether. Most of these ads use recurring themes that center around varied elements like youth, sex appeal, fun, freedom, independence, confidence, and popularity, among others. Something that the youth are easily drawn to. Add to that the fact that these ads usually feature the youth embodying themes of freedom and fun, and that they are placed in such scenarios which have largely to do with the youth as well―all in all, the youth can easily identify with them. Moreover, the constant stimuli (in the form of these ads) that the youth are exposed to, only leads to reinforcing the idea that alcohol consumption is an everyday activity―something that is harmless and rebellious fun.

Where These Ads are Placed

What is disturbing is that all these ads seem to embody the same message that somehow has to do with a child's entry into adulthood―depicted in a positive light. What is even more disturbing is that these ads appear during shows that are most popular amongst teens, like, dramas, sports, sitcoms, music videos, and horror films. Not only do these ads take up popular slots on TV, but they also take up space in several other mediums that are popular among teens like the Internet or in magazines like Sports Illustrated, Rolling Stone, Glamour, etc. Other than these mediums, alcohol ads are also placed in popular culture through radio advertising of popular music, marketing of clothes and other products, and the like―ensuring that a child is exposed to these no matter what.

How the Manufacturers Influence the Youth

Even though manufacturers argue that these ads only aim to increase market share and that they do not promote alcohol consumption amongst underage youth, the studies suggest otherwise. It is pointed out that advertisers use common and recurring themes like adolescent humor, animals, and cartoons in these ads, these themes being very popular subjects amongst preteens and youth. The constant exposure to these ads can have such an effect on preteens, that they are aware of these characters (and as a result what they advertise), from an early age―thus making them more open to alcohol consumption. The exposure and effect is clear at several levels, like a study found that children were able to name more brands of beer than they were U.S. Presidents; or how a study showed that the 3 most popular ads amongst the youth featured animal characters as the leading acts.

Why The Youth are Affected

Studies have found that children in their early teens who are exposed to constant alcohol ads are more likely to portray negative effects of the same, than a teenager of age 18 (for example) or an adult of age 21. This happens because of the way in which the human brain develops; at this age, the brain is more susceptible to products like alcohol which are associated with social status, thrill, and immediate gratification. The brain has not yet developed the mental capacity to understand the disastrous effects that alcohol can have on their systems, as well as the other related negative effects of alcohol consumption. They are only exposed to the 'fun' and 'harmless' aspects of alcohol intake without any exposure to the damaging aspects and are therefore more likely to take up drinking. By the time they are exposed to, or made aware of the negative effects of alcohol (if at all) their brain is already preconditioned to the positives of alcohol intake and they are less likely to be affected by the damaging aspects.

It's not like there are no regulations and standards that have been set up that these alcohol manufacturers have to follow. What's alarming is that, though the manufacturers may adhere to the rules and regulations that have been formulated by the government with regards to the content, airing, and placement of alcohol advertisements, various studies conducted in the effects of these ads on the youth, clearly indicate that this does not prevent the teens and youth from being more open to drinking, and consecutively taking up drinking. The question that needs to be asked then is, are the regulations strict enough? And moreover, should we allow these forms of advertisements to be aired in the first place?