The National Academies’ National Research Council released a much-anticipated report on Tuesday, September 9, 2003, on combating underage drinking. One recommendation, reducing young peoples' exposure to alcohol advertising. As this ScienCentral News video reports, neuroscientists have studied alcohol ads' appeal to underage drinkers.
A report released by the National Academies’ National Research Council and the Institute of Medicine says, “More young people drink alcohol than use other drugs or smoke tobacco”. The report calls for better policing of alcohol ads because “a substantial portion of alcohol advertising reaches an underage audience or is presented in a style that is attractive to youth”.
She says alcohol advertisements and adolescents don't mix well. "There are a lot of alcohol ads out there that while they are purported to be aimed at people ages 21 and over, adolescents find them very appealing", says Tapert.
To Drink or Not To Drink In an article published in the July 2003 issue of Archives of General Psychiatry, Tapert reported that kids who drink are more likely to be influenced by these ads than those who don't. She and her team scanned the brain activities of a group of high school students who drank heavily, and another group that did not, as they showed them alcohol ads taken from magazines that young people read, and non-alcohol ads such as soda drinks and juice beverages that young people often consume. When they compared the brain response patterns between the two groups of youngsters for the two kinds of ads they found striking differences.
Tapert explains, “Those adolescents who were already drinking heavily had profound brain response when they were looking at the alcohol advertisements, and not really much brain response when they were looking at the soda pop and juice ads. In contrast, the adolescents who were not drinking, they didn't have very much difference between the two kinds of ads they were looking at.”
image: Susan Tapert, San Diego VA Medical Center
The specific areas where the most differences were noted were the pleasure centers of the brain, the left front part of the brain that regulates positive emotions and the part of the brain that is associated with visual functioning. This, according to Tapert, suggests that the teens who were already having drinking problems, were looking more carefully at the alcohol ads than the others, they had more positive reactions to these ads and they also seemed to be getting more pleasure from seeing these ads. That could put them at even greater risk, because, Tapert cautions, “Young people who have already started to drink heavily are very sensitive to things in the environment that might put them in the direction of making a decision to drink again”.
So Tapert recommends caution while designing and placing these ads so they don’t appeal to underage drinkers. She also suggests education can limit their appeal.
One of the National Academies’ specific advertising related recommendation was that a concerted effort by the alcohol industry, the advertising industry and the entertainment industries, was needed to tackle the problem by strengthening their voluntary, self-policing of alcohol advertising. In 1999 the Federal Trade Commission issued a recommendation that alcohol ads should be placed in media where adults constituted at least 50 percent of the audience. Now, on the same day that the underage drinking report was released, the Beer Institute and the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States highlighted in a press release that they were revising the industry’s advertising and marketing code to “include a formal commitment to place broadcast and magazine advertisements where at least 70 percent of the audience or subscribers are expected to be above the age of 21…”