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Youths still see lots of alcohol ads

WASHINGTON — Nearly a quarter of ads for alcoholic beverages over a nine-month period before June were aired on television programs watched by a substantial number of underage youth, despite a pledge by the industry to stop placing ads on such shows, a study released Tuesday said.

"Despite all the attention calling on the alcohol industry to reform their advertising practices, nothing has changed," said Jim O'Hara, executive director of The Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth at Georgetown University, which conducted the study. He noted that three teens die each day from drinking and driving and at least six more die of other alcohol-related causes, including homicide, suicide and drowning.

In September 2003, the alcohol industry implemented guidelines that restricted it from placing ads during programming where 30 percent of the audience was believed to be underage.

But according to the study, nearly 12 percent of alcohol ads in the first half of 2004 were on programs with more than this threshold of youth viewership. The industry spent nearly $900 million on advertising last year.

"The alcohol industry needs to fully accept its responsibility to change the advertising environment surrounding our youth," said David Jernigan, the center's research director. "Advertising where underage youth are nearly a third of the audience is too small a step in reducing youth exposure."

But Jeff Becker, president of Beer Institute, a non-profit organization that represents the beer industry, disagrees with the evaluation, calling the group an advocacy organization, not a research group. He noted that while the group reports an increase in alcohol advertising from 2001-2003, the Federal Trade Commission reports that underage drinking declined during that time.

The center found that nearly 90,000 more alcohol ads aired in 2003 than the previous two years, with 23 percent of those more likely to be seen by youth than adults.

The study reports cable networks have increased the number of alcohol ads every year since 2001, spending more than $232 million in 2003 on nearly 200,000 ads.

In 2003, the FTC found alcohol advertisements on all 15 of the most popular television programs for teens ages 12 to 17 including: Survivor, 7th Heaven, Smallville, Friends, WWE Smackdown!, Fear Factor, CSI Miami, Everybody Loves Raymond, I'm With Her, My Wife and Kids, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, According to Jim, Everwood, One Tree Hill, and It's All Relative.

But Becker said advertising does not have the greatest influence on youths' drinking decisions, citing the independent Roper Youth Report, which says parents have the most influence.

"That's why brewers have made significant investments over the past two decades in programs that encourage parents to talk with their children about this issue," Becker said. He added the FTC noted this when it commended the industry in its 2003 report for spending $50 million per year to prevent illegal underage drinking and encourage responsible use of its products.

Becker said the Beer Institute and its members will continue to support education and awareness efforts that it believes have made a difference, such as working with the government, public health officials, community groups, law enforcement and others on programs that will help parents talk to their children, that help retailers prevent sales to minors and that help law enforcement officials enforce the law.

The report found that in 2003 about 10.9 million youth ages 12 to 20 had consumed a drink in the last month. Of those, nearly 7.2 million reported binge drinking — consuming more than five drinks in one sitting.

And according to the Department of Health and Human Services, every day 7,000 kids under the age of 16 consume their first alcoholic beverage.