First, industry-sponsored media messages regarding underage drinking should be redirected away from youth audiences and focused instead on changing the attitudes and behavior of parents and other adults—to persuade them not to facilitate or enable underage drinking and to accept responsibility for preventing it. For example, industry-sponsored messages could be designed to alert adults to their legal responsibilities, including potential liability for injuries caused by underage drinkers to whom they give alcohol, or could show a shoulder-tap enforcement sting by undercover youths (see Chapter 9). Although the alcohol industry may not be the most credible source of messages aiming to reduce the demand for alcohol (by either adults or youths), messages aimed specifically at curbing behaviors that violate the restrictions on underage access can hardly be used as pretexts to stimulate demand. Indeed, they might be especially effective because the industry has both credibility and natural channels of communication with its adult customers. Second, industry-funded messages and programs should be delivered directly to young people only if they rest on a scientific foundation, as judged by qualified, independent organizations, or incorporate rigorous evaluation. Programs that have an exclusive focus on providing information have been demonstrated to be ineffective at reducing alcohol use and should be avoided (see Chapter 10).
In 2001, alcoholic beverage companies spent $1.6 billion on advertising in print media, broadcast media, billboards, and other venues—known as measured media purchases. At least twice that amount was spent on unmeasured promotion, which include sponsorships, product placement payment in entertainment media, point-of-sale advertising, discount promotion, apparel and other items with brand-name logos, and other activities (Federal Trade Commission, 1999, Appendix B; see Figure 7-1 for recent trends). Industry critics assert that some of these marketing activities are intentionally directed toward underage audiences (see, e.g., Center for Science in the Public Interest, 2002; Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth, 2002a), but even if the companies are not targeting young people, abundant evidence shows that a large proportion of these commercial messages and promotional activities do, in fact, reach underage audiences. The current practice of some companies—advertising on television programs with an audience that is at least 50 percent adult—routinely allows placement of alcohol advertising on programs for which the percentage of underage viewers is higher than the percentage of underage children in the United States (Center for Alcohol Marketing and Youth, 2002b).
The effect on youth drinking of voluminous and pervasive alcohol advertising and promotional activity is one of the most highly contested