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Published: Saturday, 1/14/2006

Targeting youthful drinkers

THE alcoholic beverage industry spends $1.8 billion a year on media advertising because ads do sell beer, wine, liquor, and new hybrid drinks like those sweet, fizzy alcopops.

TV ad campaigns, for instance, created the market for lite beer, as John Madden, Dick Butkus, and other sports icons frothed memorable slogans like: Everything you always wanted in a beer. And less.

A new national study suggests that society would benefit from less of a certain kind of alcoholic beverage advertising ads seen by underage drinkers.

The idea that ads do sell products may seem like pure Well, duh!

For years now, however, experts have sought scientific evidence on advertising s role in underage drinking.

Alcohol use by people under the legal drinking age of 21 causes barrels of trouble. People under 21 consume one out of every five drinks in the United States.

These are not social drinkers, but bingers. About 90 per cent of underage drinkers guzzle drink after drink with the sole purpose of getting blitzed. The consequences include poor grades, risky sex, violent behavior, alcoholism, and more than 4,000 tragic deaths each year.

There have been plenty of hints that advertising does encourage underage drinking. Alcohol producers, like tobacco companies in an earlier era, questioned the link.

Much to its credit, however, the alcoholic beverage industry adopted a voluntary code requiring that at least 70 per cent of the audience for print, radio, and television ads consist of adults of legal drinking age.

The new study, headed by scientists at the University of Connecticut, concluded that alcohol advertising increases underage drinking.

Youths who saw more alcohol advertisements drank more.

Advertising is just one factor in a culture that directly and indirectly encourages irresponsible alcohol use among young people.

Drinking-age laws go unenforced, parents shirk their responsibility to educate children about alcohol, and college administrators tolerate alcohol-related debauchery.

However, it can be addressed quite easily. The alcoholic beverage industry has a golden opportunity to polish its reputation for responsible self-regulation by strengthening that advertising code.

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