Analysis of alcohol ads in magazines finds current codes and regulations do not protect consumers from risky content and messages

November 14, 2013

A new report from the Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth (CAMY) at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health calls into question whether existing federal and voluntary standards for alcohol advertisements curtail potentially damaging content and protect public health.

The researchers examined nearly 1,800 different ads for beer, spirits and alcopops that appeared between 2008 and 2010 in national magazines; they found that while the ads largely adhered to existing regulations and codes, numerous adherent ads still contained content promoting unhealthy and problematic consumption. Examples include ads showing scantily clad, objectified and sexualized women, and ads associating alcoholic beverages with active lifestyles and weight control. The report is published in the American Journal of Public Health.

"Considering advertising's demonstrated power to shape behavior, it's important that the public health community be knowledgeable about alcohol advertising content, particularly when it reaches underage audiences," said study author Katherine C. Smith, associate professor with the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. "Our findings suggest further limitations and enhanced federal oversight may be necessary to protect public health."

Alcohol is heavily marketed in the United States: Alcohol companies spend at least $4 billion a year on promotion; an estimated $847 million was spent on magazine advertising alone from 2008 to 2010. At least 14 studies have found that the more young people are exposed to alcohol advertising and marketing, the more likely they are to drink, or if they are already drinking, to drink more.

Federal regulation of alcohol advertising and marketing is minimal. Marketers may not make false claims that are intended to deceive, and they cannot include statements judged indecent or which make health or curative claims. In addition to federal limits, marketing is also governed by a system of self-regulation under the Beer Institute and the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, both of whose codes emphasize responsible practices on the part of alcohol producers.

"The devil is in the details when it comes to regulation, and there are currently very few details as to what constitutes unacceptable practices regarding alcohol advertising," said study author and CAMY director David Jernigan, also an associate professor with the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. "When we see time and time again examples of problematic ads that comply with existing regulations and industry standards, we must ask ourselves what more can be done to protect the public's health."

The study authors likened alcohol industry self-regulation to what happened when regulation of tobacco advertising was left up to that industry.

"As seen with tobacco, self-regulation permits an industry to frame approaches as credible when they may actually work against the overall health and well-being of the public," Smith said.

In 2003, the National Research Council and Institute of Medicine recommended that alcohol companies take "reasonable precautions" to reduce youth exposure to alcohol advertising.

"Given the clear difficulties with regulating content, tightening guidelines about when and where companies may place their ads would also help protect youth from problematic alcohol advertising," Jernigan said.

Alcohol is the most commonly used and abused drug among youth in the United States, and is responsible for more than 4,700 annual deaths among underage youth.
This work was supported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (cooperative agreement 5U58DP002072). The contents of this article are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health

Related Public Health Articles from Brightsurf:

COVID-19 and the decolonization of Indigenous public health
Indigenous self-determination, leadership and knowledge have helped protect Indigenous communities in Canada during the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, and these principles should be incorporated into public health in future, argue the authors of a commentary in CMAJ (Canadian Medical Association Journal)

Public health consequences of policing homelessness
In a new study examining homelessness, researchers find that policy such a lifestyle has massive public health implications, making sleeping on the street even MORE unhealthy.

Electronic health information exchange improves public health disease reporting
Disease tracking is an important area of focus for health departments in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Pandemic likely to cause long-term health problems, Yale School of Public Health finds
The coronavirus pandemic's life-altering effects are likely to result in lasting physical and mental health consequences for many people--particularly those from vulnerable populations--a new study led by the Yale School of Public Health finds.

The Lancet Public Health: US modelling study estimates impact of school closures for COVID-19 on US health-care workforce and associated mortality
US policymakers considering physical distancing measures to slow the spread of COVID-19 face a difficult trade-off between closing schools to reduce transmission and new cases, and potential health-care worker absenteeism due to additional childcare needs that could ultimately increase mortality from COVID-19, according to new modelling research published in The Lancet Public Health journal.

The Lancet Public Health: Access to identification documents reflecting gender identity may improve trans mental health
Results from a survey of over 20,000 American trans adults suggest that having access to identification documents which reflect their identified gender helps to improve their mental health and may reduce suicidal thoughts, according to a study published in The Lancet Public Health journal.

The Lancet Public Health: Study estimates mental health impact of welfare reform, Universal Credit, in Great Britain
The 2013 Universal Credit welfare reform appears to have led to an increase in the prevalence of psychological distress among unemployed recipients, according to a nationally representative study following more than 52,000 working-age individuals from England, Wales, and Scotland over nine years between 2009-2018, published as part of an issue of The Lancet Public Health journal on income and health.

BU researchers: Pornography is not a 'public health crisis'
Researchers from the Boston University School of Public Health (BUSPH) have written an editorial in the American Journal of Public Health special February issue arguing against the claim that pornography is a public health crisis, and explaining why such a claim actually endangers the health of the public.

The Lancet Public Health: Ageism linked to poorer health in older people in England
Ageism may be linked with poorer health in older people in England, according to an observational study of over 7,500 people aged over 50 published in The Lancet Public Health journal.

Study: Public transportation use linked to better public health
Promoting robust public transportation systems may come with a bonus for public health -- lower obesity rates.

Read More: Public Health News and Public Health Current Events is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to