In a new study released today from the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, researchers found that African-American youth are exposed to more alcohol advertisements than youth of other races. The director of the Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth at Johns Hopkins, David Jernigan, PhD said this outcome is a result of two key phenomena: 1) brands are specifically targeting African-American audiences and 2) African-American media habits make them more vulnerable to alcohol advertising in general because of higher levels of media consumption. Because of the devastating effects that underage drinking can cause, it is important for policymakers to protect youth from excessive exposure to alcohol and to prevent youth from developing an alcohol-related substance use disorder.
The study found that certain brands, channels and formats overexpose African-American youth to alcohol ads.
- In magazines, they saw 32% more alcohol ads than all youth.
- On television, they were exposed to 17% more ads per capita than all youth, including 20% more exposure to distilled spirits ads.
- On the radio, they heard 32% more advertising for distilled spirits.
Alcohol is the most widely used drug among African-American youth; more than tobacco and far more than marijuana. This study is significant because it is well established in research that the more young people are exposed to alcohol advertising and marketing, the more likely they are to start drinking. If they are already drinking, they are more likely to drink more heavily.
Despite their disproportionate exposure to alcohol ads, African-American youth actually drink less than youths of other racial groups, which researchers attribute to factors such as poverty, social norms and religion. However, this research is still significant because African-Americans who do drink suffer more serious consequences because they tend to have less access to health care, substance abuse treatment, live in poorer neighborhoods and are incarcerated more frequently. Alcohol consumption is also linked to the three leading causes of death among African-American youth-homicide, suicide and accidental injury.
Although the study could name specific magazines, alcohol brands, and television stations that overexposed African-American youth, the study could not prove the intent of the alcohol industry to target African-American youth.
Dr. Jernigan recommends that alcohol marketers commit to cutting exposure to this high-risk population, but there is also a role for policymakers to play. The Prevention Resource Center outlines a number of measures policymakers can take to create policies aimed at retailers, adult providers, youth, and alcohol availability in general. A number of states have already implemented limits to the public’s exposure to alcohol ads. For example, New Hampshire bans alcohol billboards as well as any advertising of alcohol events, such as happy hours. Some states ban ads in alcohol outlets that are visible from the street.
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