Newswise — Although alcohol is a legal substance for adults age 21 or older, it is the leading illicit substance used by underage American youth. Prior research has shown that youth exposed to alcohol advertisements have a greater risk of drinking. Alcohol-industry groups have developed voluntary codes, such as the Beer Institute Advertising & Marketing Code, stating that their advertising and marketing materials are intended for adults of legal purchasing age who choose to drink. This study examined whether alcohol brands more popular among youth were more likely than other brands to have aired television advertisements that violated the alcohol industry’s voluntary code by including youth-appealing content.

Researchers obtained a complete list of 288 brand-specific beer advertisements broadcast during a decade of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) men’s and women’s basketball tournaments from 1999 to 2008. The ads represented 23 beer brands. All of the ads were assessed by a panel of 15 health experts and other professionals for the presence of youth-appealing content, which would be in violation of the alcohol industry’s voluntary code. Brand popularity was determined by a 2011-2012 national survey of underage drinkers.

Alcohol brands popular among underage youth were more likely to air television advertising that violated the industry’s voluntary code regarding youth-appealing content. More specifically, code violations due to youth-appealing content were prevalent during the NCAA basketball tournament games: 21.5 percent of the 288 ads were cited for content primarily appealing to underage youth. The study authors suggest that some beer producers are successfully targeting underage youth – therefore deriving profits from illegal alcohol consumption – and provide three key policy recommendations: strict enforcement of marketing and advertising guidelines developed by public-health groups; compliance reviews conducted by a third-party independent agency; and moving toward a total ban on youth-appealing alcohol advertising.