Alcohol ads lead to youth drinking, should be more regulated, experts say

February 24, 2020

PISCATAWAY, NJ - The marketing of alcoholic beverages is one cause of underage drinking, public health experts conclude. Because of this, countries should abandon what are often piecemeal and voluntary codes to restrict alcohol marketing and construct government-enforced laws designed to limit alcohol-marketing exposure and message appeal to youth.

These conclusions stem form a series of eight review articles published as a supplement to the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, which synthesized the results of 163 studies on alcohol advertising and youth alcohol consumption.

"[T]here is persuasive evidence that exposure to alcohol marketing is one cause of drinking onset during adolescence and also one cause of binge drinking," write James D. Sargent, M.D., of the C. Everett Koop Institute at Dartmouth, and Thomas F. Babor, Ph.D., M.P.H., of the University of Connecticut, in a conclusion to the supplement.

Each of the eight review articles in the supplement evaluated a different aspect of alcohol marketing and drinking among young people. The reviews covered hundreds of studies that used different research designs and measurement techniques, and the data came from a variety of countries and scientific disciplines.

The authors of the reviews used the Bradford Hill criteria--a well-known framework for determining causal links between environmental exposures and disease--to determine whether marketing is a cause of youth alcohol use. The same criteria have been used to establish that smoking is a cause of cancer and that tobacco marketing is one cause of youth smoking. Hill's causality criteria involve determining the strength of association, consistency of the link, specificity of the association, temporal precedence of the advertising exposure, biological and psychological plausibility, experimental evidence and analogy to similar health risk exposures (e.g., tobacco advertising).

Sargent and Babor note that each of the Bradford Hill criteria were met within the eight reviews, supporting a modest but meaningful association between alcohol advertising and youth drinking.

Although such a relationship had been previously known, this is the first time any public health expert has explicitly concluded that advertising causes drinking among adolescents. As a result, the authors recommend the following:To the extent that modest causal evidence has been found in a range of countries, and plausible mechanisms have been identified as possible mediating factors, Sargent and Babor expressed the hope that the findings will promote "thoughtful discourse among researchers, effective prevention measures among policymakers, and an effort to reach consensus on this issue among a larger and more representative body of scientists."
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The publication--"Alcohol Marketing and Youth Drinking: Is There a Causal Relationship?" (Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, Supplement 19--was funded by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. All articles in the supplement are open access on the journal's website (http://www.jsad.com) as of Feb. 24, 2020.

Sargent, J. D., & Babor, T. F. (2020). The relationship between exposure to alcohol marketing and underage drinking is causal. Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs, Supplement 19, 113-124. doi:10.15288/jsads.2020.s19.113

To arrange an interview with James D. Sargent, M.D., please contact Tim Dean at Dartmouth Geisel School of Medicine Communications & Marketing (603-455-3478 or timothy.s.dean@dartmouth.edu).

The Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs (http://www.jsad.com) is published by the Center of Alcohol & Substance Use Studies at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey. It is the oldest substance-related journal published in the United States.

To learn about education and training opportunities for addiction counselors and others at the Rutgers Center of Alcohol & Substance Use Studies, please visit https://education.alcoholstudies.rutgers.edu/education-training.

The Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs considers this press release to be in the public domain. Editors may publish this press release in whole or in part, in print or electronic form, without legal restriction. Please include proper attribution and byline.

Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs

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