Alcohol makers need to do more to limit ads kids see

Among advertisements on TV, it’s hard not to like many of those that market beer, wine and spirits. Most are entertaining, funny — farewell Most Interesting Man in the World — and particularly effective.

But that effectiveness is a problem when they are viewed by children and underage youths.

A recent study and report by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health points to more than 14 studies that found that youth exposure to alcohol advertising is associated with initiating alcohol use among youths and adversely influences the amount of alcohol that they consume.

The result: Excessive alcohol consumption contributes to high-risk behaviors including smoking, physical violence and sexual activity as well as a nationwide average of 4,300 deaths among those under 21 each year, according to a 2013 report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The producers of beer, wine and spirits have balked at government regulation, instead promising to police themselves and enforce their own standards for when and on which channels and programs their advertising will be shown. That standard allows advertisements only when at least 72 percent of the audience is adults over 21.

But the Johns Hopkins report, using viewership data from Nielsen, has found that the current advertising standards are weak and not being enforced. More than 15 billion individual views of alcohol advertisements between 2005 and 2012 were viewed by audiences that included more youths than the industries’ standards allow. Cable television was by far the biggest scofflaw. Almost all — 96 percent — of the noncompliant advertising was aired during cable TV programs.

In response, the Federal Trade Commission is recommending criteria based on the Johns Hopkins study that would strengthen the alcohol industries’ voluntary standards to avoid advertising:

  • On programs that are known to have previously violated the placement standards;
  • On programs that run during time periods known to be popular with underage youths; and
  • On programs that are known to have a small number of adult viewers.

Johns Hopkins created a list of specific programs and network and time of day combinations for which alcohol ads shouldn’t be aired. Among shows with the most noncompliance, the report said, were feature-length movies on FX, FXX, BET, Comedy Central and Spike and shows like TRU’s “Impractical Jokers,” Discovery’s “Mythbusters,” and ESPN’s morning “SportsCenter.”

The FTC recommendations are backed by a coalition of groups calling for the stronger standards, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, Center for Science in the Public Interest, the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence and the U.S. Alcohol Policy Alliance.

The beer, wine and spirits industries set reasonable standards for themselves, but they and the cable networks selling advertising now have to do a better job of policing the channels and shows and the times when their ads appear.

Kids watching the highlights of the previous night’s March Madness games on ESPN shouldn’t be watching a beer ad while they eat their cereal.

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