Study: Alcohol advertising and adolescent drinking are linked

Alcohol advertising in the EU is under the spotlight. [Denise Mattox/Flickr]

Adolescent drinking culture is linked to young people’s exposure to various types of alcohol advertising, a new study has found.

Alcohol advertising has taken center stage in the EU, as the European Commission recently (25 May) tabled a new proposal for the review of the Audiovisual Media Services Directive (AVMSD).

The AVMSD governs EU-wide coordination of national legislation on all audiovisual media, both traditional TV broadcasts and on-demand services, and is the only available EU media regulation to have two articles dedicated to alcohol advertising (article 9.1 and article 22).

Health NGOs: Commission ‘listened’ to industry on alcohol advertising

A new European Commission proposal to reform advertising rules on television and online has opened a new battlefield for health NGOs, advertisers and the alcohol industry.

The executive’s proposal was heavily criticised by health NGOs, which accused the Commission of “listening” to the industry.

Not only TV ads

Around 9,000 school pupils from Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and Poland with an average age 14 took part in the study, published in the scientific journal Addiction.

Lead author Avalon de Bruijn from the European Centre for Monitoring Alcohol Marketing (EUCAM), said that Europe was the world’s heaviest-drinking region, and youth drinking was particularly problematic.

“Our study highlights the need to restrict the volume of alcohol marketing to which young people are exposed in everyday life. It’s no longer just a matter of restricting television ads,” de Bruijn said. He added that policymakers need to examine the alcohol industry’s total marketing scheme and develop regulations that will reduce all types of alcohol marketing.

Different alcohol cultures, same results

The purpose of the study was to focus on the drinking frequency of adolescents combined with their exposure to alcohol marketing, ranging from TV advertising to online marketing, sponsorship of sports, music events or festivals, ownership of alcohol-branded promotional items, receipt of free samples and exposure to price offers.

These countries have put in place various alcohol prevention policies tailored to their different alcohol cultures. For instance, Italy has a non-enforced ban on spirits advertising and a watershed for beer and wine advertisements on TV, while Germany has legal restrictions on the content of alcohol advertising and a watershed on advertising in the cinema. In Poland there are legal restrictions on the size of advertising posters and billboards.

But despite these different cultural and regulatory circumstances, the study found that “exposure to alcohol marketing of all kinds was positively associated with adolescents’ alcohol use over time”.

The authors were careful to point out that a causal connection could not be proved with this kind of study, but the findings were “clearly a cause for concern”.

“Our findings suggest that when considering the reciprocal process between alcohol marketing exposure and alcohol use at each time point, there remains a one-way effect of alcohol marketing exposure on adolescents’ alcohol use over time,” the study reads.

EU framework

Linking the study’s findings with the ongoing debate in the EU about alcohol advertising, the authors said that legal restrictions on the amount of alcohol marketing in the European Union were needed.

Since tabling its position, the European Commission is currently collecting views from a wide range of stakeholders.

In a bid to protect minors, the European Association for the Study of the Liver (EASL) recently sent its opinion on the directive asking for a ban on the advertising of certain foods, beverages and alcohol between 7am and 11pm in every EU country.

Referring to numerous studies, EASL said, “Exposure to marketing of alcohol and foods high in salt, sugar, and saturated fats, increases consumption of these products in all segments of the population, including children.”

The Audiovisual Media Services Directive (AVMSD) sets out rules for European television broadcasters and on-demand services on advertising, the ratio of European to non-European content shown, hate speech and protection of minors. The current directive was passed in 2007.

The European Commission presented an overhaul of those rules last week (25 May), requiring video-on-demand providers like Netflix and Amazon Prime to devote 20% of their content in Europe to European movies and TV programmes.

The proposals are part of the Commission's digital single market strategy.

Video on-demand services will also have to comply with rules that protect minors. Some broadcasters already follow limitations on what time of day potentially harmful content can be shown.

The Commission proposes restrictions that “may include selecting the time of the broadcast, age verification tools or other technical measures”. The most harmful content, such as gratuitous violence and pornography, shall be subject to the strictest measures, such as encryption and PIN codes, it said.

Subscribe to our newsletters