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Reducing Underage Drinking: A Collective Responsibility
Many Internet sites sponsored by alcohol companies are easy for children to access. According to the FTC’s 1999 report, there are more than 100 commercial alcohol websites, but only 43 percent of beer sites and 72 percent of spirit sites have some kind of age restriction (either a filter or a warning). Although these data are undoubtedly out of date, no recent review is available. While it appears that most sites now use “virtual bouncers” to check for age of viewers, the effectiveness of this approach is unknown. In keeping with their commitment to prevent underage drinking, alcohol companies should use their best efforts, based on evolving technology, to restrict underage access to their web sites and avoid using games and cartoons that are unusually attractive to children and teenagers.
As discussed in greater detail in the next chapter, the entertainment industry should acknowledge its own responsibility to avoid program content that glorifies, or presents in a favorable way, underage use of alcohol or that exposes young audiences to unsuitable messages relating to alcohol. The committee recognizes that the content of movies, television programs, web-based entertainment, and live theater lies at the heart of the First Amendment and that any governmental regulation is constitutionally precluded. However, these media have a social responsibility to try to avoid or reduce youth exposure to unsuitable alcohol messages.
Obviously, alcohol companies do not have complete control over artistic decisions to display or use their products in films or other entertainment media. However, an identifiable brand is not likely to be prominently displayed without the request or permission of the alcohol company. Moreover, it is a common practice within the industry to seek placements of alcohol products or logos in films, television programs, and music videos. In 1997-1998, eight companies responding to the FTC reported that they made product placements in 233 movies and one or more episodes of 181 different television series. The companies sometimes pay for these placements.
According to the FTC’s 1999 report, alcohol companies avoid product placement in films, programs, or videos that actually show underage drinking, but otherwise do not seem to have a common practice regarding screening films and programs for alcohol-related content and for the likelihood of exposure to underage audiences. The FTC recommended that product placements be restricted to movies that are rated “R” (or NC-17), that they be avoided when an underage person is the primary character, and that the standards for placement of advertising (discussed above) also be applied to