Thursday, June 6, 2013

Vomit commercials, higher taxes and other ways to reduce teen drinking

You click on the TV and land right on an alcohol commercial.  Not a Bud Light spot from the largest beverage advertiser in the U.S. Anheuser-Busch InBev. (Yes, they spend more than Coca-Cola or Pepsi on TV spots.)  It is a teen in the alcohol ad, throwing up his girlfriend, not as in tossing her in the air but as in vomiting her up.  (The link to the ad, the second on the page, is here... WARNING: NOT for the squeamish.)

Parents and peers influence teen decisions to drink. However, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health research clearly indicates that alcohol advertising and marketing also have a “significant effect by influencing youth and adult expectations and attitudes, and helping to create an environment that promotes underage drinking.”

That's the research backing up efforts to limit alcohol ads during televised sports (April 18 in this blog), as well as the graphic, but effective, approach for the Spanish television public service announcement.  It's gross... lowbrow... and visually effective in a way that reaches teens on their love-to-be-shocked level with the message, “Every time you get drunk, you separate yourself from the things that matter.”

Spain's government-quoted figures claim that 65 percent of 14- to 18-year-olds in Spain drink regularly. (The minimum drinking age is 18, but 16-year-olds may buy beer and wine if accompanied by their parents.) The problem in the United States is nearly as pronounced, with one in four 12 to 20-year-olds having consumed alcohol just in the last 30 days. See the stats here

Graphic approaches like Spain's haven't been tried in the U.S. yet.  On May 13, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) launched a new TV/radio/print ad campaign called “Talk. They Listen.”  Rather than directed toward teens, the SAMHSA effort is intended to empower parents to talk to children as young as nine years old about the dangers of underage drinking.

Other efforts to curb underage drinking include voluntary bans on flavored malt beverages, also known as “alcopops,” and raising taxes to price alcoholic beverages more out of the same range as soda or bottled water.

An article posted November 21 on the website of the National Council on Alcohol and Drug Dependence, Inc. (NCADD) notes higher alcohol taxes discourage teens from drinking. "These taxes prevent and reduce drinking and death among young people, as well as among heavy drinkers," says David H. Jernigan, PhD, Associate Professor and Director, Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth (CAMY), also at Johns Hopkins, who has conducted research on the effect of the taxes.

In a report prepared as part of the campaign to advocate for increasing Maryland’s excise tax, CAMY estimated that a dime a drink increase in Maryland's alcohol excise taxes would reduce alcohol consumption by 4.8 percent. "The impact could be even larger among youth, since they are less likely to be addicted to alcohol than older drinkers, and also have less disposable income — both factors that make them more sensitive to increases in the cost of alcohol," the report states.

"When alcohol is cheaper at the corner store than milk, orange juice or sometimes even water, it sends young people the wrong message," Jernigan says. "It makes alcohol look like an ordinary commodity when it is not." He notes that prices on alcohol used to be much higher than those on other beverages. The most important factor in the price drop has been the inability of alcohol taxes to keep up with inflation.  (See the complete article on U.S. Alcohol taxes.)

The Community Preventive Services Task Force recommends increasing the unit price of alcohol by raising taxes based on strong evidence of effectiveness for reducing excessive alcohol consumption and related harms.
The SATURDAY REWIND June 8 will look at a recent study on parenting and teen alcohol abuse.