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Teenagers drowning in booze propaganda

Alcohol companies are spending millions of dollars helping convince young people that drinking early and often is integral to having fun and being popular, according to a leading public health and marketing expert. Professor Simone Pettigrew, Director of the Health Promotion Evaluation Unit at the University of Western Australia, told the AMA’s National Summit on Alcohol Marketing to Young People that alcohol manufacturers and liquor outlets spent an estimated $16 million on 2810 television ads in less than two months, most of it to promote beer and spirits.

30 Sep 2012

Alcohol companies are spending millions of dollars helping convince young people that drinking early and often is integral to having fun and being popular, according to a leading public health and marketing expert.

Professor Simone Pettigrew, Director of the Health Promotion Evaluation Unit at the University of Western Australia, told the AMA’s National Summit on Alcohol Marketing to Young People that alcohol manufacturers and liquor outlets spent an estimated $16 million on 2810 television ads in less than two months, most of it to promote beer and spirits.

Professor Pettigrew said the analysis, conducted in 2010, showed that humour and friendship were the predominant themes of the ads, but the marketing also sought to associate alcohol with sport and physical activity, and emphasised that it was good value for money.

“Young people are being encouraged to view alcohol as a product that is closely associated with fun, friendship and physical activity,” Professor Pettigrew told the Summit, which was attended by AMA President Dr Steve Hambleton, AMA Vice President Professor Geoff Dobb, representatives from more than 14 public health, youth and law enforcement organisations, as well as more than a dozen federal MPs.

Follow-up presentations by Professor Sandra Jones, Director of the Centre for Health Initiatives at the University of Wollongong, and Dr Nicholas Carah, lecturer in Mass Media and Communication at the University of Queensland, highlighted that alcohol companies were going well beyond traditional advertising to promote their products.

Professor Jones said young people were being exposed to multiple forms of alcohol marketing, including through the internet, point-of-sale promotions, sponsorships and events.

Dr Carah said alcohol companies were active in using social media to market their drinks, with Smirnoff’s Facebook page having 183,000 followers, Toohey’s Extra Dry 104,000 followers, and Jagermeister, 52,000 followers.

Dr Carah said that through these pages drinking exploits and other alcohol-related behaviour was encouraged.

Dr Kerry O’Brien, Senior Lecturer in Behavioural Studies at Monash University, told the summit of evidence suggesting that alcohol industry advertising at, and sponsorship of, sport, was linked to decisions made by young people about when and how much to drink.

Furthermore, Dr O’Brien reported, “direct alcohol sponsorship is associated with more hazardous drinking and harm in sports participants”.

“The association between sport and alcohol appears so culturally ingrained, it is over-learnt to the point where implicit associations are formed in young peoples’ cognitive structures,” he said.

Julia Stafford, of the McCusker Centre for Action on Alcohol and Youth, said there was no doubt that such marketing contributed to early and dangerous drinking among young people.

“Exposure to alcohol advertising influences young people’s attitudes to alcohol, their decisions about when to start drinking, and their behaviours around how much they drink,” Ms Stafford said. “We’re not just concerned about alcohol advertising that targets young people.

“We’re concerned that young people are being exposed to masses of alcohol promotion in so many different forms, and that much of the advertising has features that would appeal to young people, in terms of the music they use, the characters and people in the ads.”

Ms Stafford warned that the scale of the marketing effort of alcohol companies drowned out public health and education messages about the dangers of alcohol abuse.

“Alcohol advertising reinforces pro-drinking messages,” she said. “So, our health campaigns and other forms of education, they can’t compete with the massive marketing budgets of alcohol companies and they don’t have a chance to make an impact.”

Ms Stafford, in a joint presentation with Professor of Health Policy at Curtin University, Mike Daube, highlighted the failure of the alcohol industry to regulate the marketing of its products to young people.

Professor Daube and Ms Stafford said the ineffectiveness of the industry’s Alcohol Beverages Advertising Code was built into its design because it was voluntary and had no powers of enforcement, covered only part of the sector and excluded consideration of areas such as sponsorship and the use of new media.

In their presentation, they compared the performance of the Code with the Alcohol Advertising Review Board (AARB), which was set up in March this year by the McCusker Centre and the WA Cancer Council and chaired by Professor Fiona Stanley.

Last year the administrators of the alcohol industry’s voluntary code received 119 complaints and issued determinations in 45 cases, upholding 35 complaints in whole or part.

By contrast, the AARB received 63 complaints in its first three months of operation and delivered 44 determinations, including 42 instances where the complaint was upheld in whole or part.

The Board found that in 28 instances, advertising breached provisions regarding the marketing of alcohol to young people.

AR

 


Published: 30 Sep 2012