Everywhere we go, we’re bombarded by all sorts of advertisements. We can seldom go through one day without receiving at least one phone call from a telemarketer. Turn on the TV for 15 or 20 minutes and you’ll see at least one 5-minute commercial break. Advertisements are abundant everywhere we go: alongside roads, at airports, and at train stations. Why is advertising so popular, why do so many companies pump millions of dollars each year into advertising? The answer is simple: ads inform people of products they otherwise wouldn’t have heard of, they make products look appealing to so that people will buy them, and they allow advertisers to influence the general public to purchase their product. Generally speaking, this isn’t a problem – companies make money and people get the products they need and want. What about products, though, that hurt, rather than help, people, products such as alcohol? Should advertising of such products, products that give way to so much harm, be allowed?
The biggest argument for the banning of advertising for alcoholic beverages points out the strong negative effects of alcohol on our society and the problems associated with alcohol. Alcoholism is a disease. According to the government-run NIAAA, or the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, alcoholism has a few easy to recognize symptoms. First of all, alcoholics have an addiction to alcohol. They constantly have a desire to consume more alcohol. This strong desire for alcohol leads to a loss of control. Rather than choosing when to drink and limiting the amount of alcohol consumption, alcoholics are controlled by their alcoholism. This desire is often overwhelming in nature and takes first priority in an alcoholic’s life, even over such things as family, career, and so forth. The loss of control ties in closely with physical dependence on alcohol – if, by whatever means, the alcoholic attempts to quit, he or she experiences withdrawal symptoms. As an alcoholic continues to drink more and more and become increasingly dependent on alcohol, he or she gains tolerance to alcohol – in order to get drunk, the alcoholic must consume more alcohol.
An explanation of alcoholism is not enough to persuade most people to ban alcohol advertising. Most fail to recognize the vast amount of people that alcoholism and other alcohol related problems effect. Many studies have been done and many statistics have been gathered to show the grim reality of alcohol-related problems. In the United States, there are 100,000 alcohol-related deaths each year, which puts it at slot number three in the list of the top causes of preventable death in the nation. Approximately two-thirds of domestic violence and sexual assaults involve alcohol in one way or another and one-half of all murders in the nation involve alcohol. Among the nation’s high school students, 81% have used alcohol at least once, and 30% have had five or more drinks in a row in the past two weeks. High school students (underage) drink 35% of all wine coolers sold in the United States. On average, a person’s first drink of alcohol takes place at the age of 13. Twenty-one percent of all the nation’s tenth graders and eight percent of the nation’s eighth graders have been drunk in the past month. (FamilyFun).
What role does alcohol advertising play, though, in these high rates? Does alcohol advertising really play a role in alcoholism, in underage drinking, in DUIs, cirrhosis of the liver, and other alcohol related problems? Professor David J. Hanson, Ph.D. comments on his web site about alcohol-related problems, “There is no solid evidence from either scientific research or practical experience that this theory [that ‘Advertising increases alcohol consumption, which increases alcohol abuse’] of advertising is correct” and proceeds to show all the evidence he found to support that statement. Regardless of any evidence that anyone has either in support of or in opposition to alcohol advertising, no one can say for certainty, no study can be done to explain exactly how much advertising effects us. Does that mean alcohol advertising should be allowed, though? Most definitely not. The abuse of alcohol brings about a whole slew of problems, as has been shown, all of which are detrimental to the user’s health and the health of others around them. Do television commercials show these bad effects? No…they make alcohol consumption look appealing, fun, cool, and harmless, when in fact none of these words properly describes the effects of alcohol. Advertisers poke fun at something very serious; they make money off of others’ misfortunes.
Regardless of any uncertainty surrounding the direct effects of alcohol advertisements on viewers, one certainty exists. Many states currently have laws prohibiting alcohol advertisements to be shown in environments geared specifically toward children. For example, Budweiser could not advertise their beer on “The Bugs Bunny and Tweety Show,” but they ARE allowed to advertise their products on sporting events and other television shows. Allowing companies to act as such fails to take into account the fact that many children watch TV shows that are break every ten or fifteen minutes for a commercial break that contains alcohol advertisements. I, for one, began watching baseball games on a regular basis around the age of 6 or 7. When Budweiser came out with their series of commercials featuring the frogs that croaked, “Bud,” “weis,” and “er,” I recall the phrase becoming very popular, very quickly amongst my classmates. A year after Budweiser came out with this series of commercials, children between the ages of 9 and 11 were more acquainted with Budweiser’s rendition of the phrase “Bud” “weis” “er” than they were with Tony the Tiger, the Power Rangers, and Smokey the Bear (Mediascope). Why did children know the Budweiser phrase better than these other popular children’s characters? The answer is simple: Budweiser made an impression on them, while the friendlier, less harmful characters did not. If companies cannot advertise alcoholic products for shows geared for kids, what sense is there in allowing such ads to be displayed on shows that are geared for anyone, shows that anyone, including millions of children, can and will enjoy?
In order to gain insight on the issue, I discussed it with a few adults. First, I talked with the pastor at my church, Rev. Dr. David Balla. He pointed out a study that was just released February 25, 2003. This study showed that problem drinkers – those who abuse alcohol and those who drink while under age – consume 50% of all the alcohol that is consumed in the country. For this reason, in addition to the problems that can come about from alcohol abuse, Pastor Balla agrees with my position and opposes alcohol advertisements.
In addition to my pastor, I discussed this issue with my mom. She mentioned many of the arguments I have presented, but focused especially on the influence she believes commercials have on those who view them. She pointed out that alcohol commercials often make drinking look like the “adult” thing to do and that you can only be cool if you drink alcohol. Additionally, she touched on the fact that many people who wouldn’t otherwise drink, do because of the strong influence of, the lure of alcohol commercials.
Few remember the days when cigarette advertisements were legal…smoking was popular and very common amongst people of all different ages. Now, after cigarette advertisements have been banned and the harmful effects of tobacco are well known, smoking is no longer the popular thing; people are often looked down upon for it. We can accomplish the same with alcohol abuse.
“Alcoholism is a Family Disease.” FamilyFun. (Online). Available http://family.go.com/yourtime/relationships/feature/kypa107alcohol/kypa107alcohol.html, February 25, 2003.
“Frequently Asked Questions – Alcohol.” National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. (Online). Available http://www.niaaa.nih.gov/faq/q-a-text.htm, February 25, 2003.
Hanson, Prof. David J., Ph.D. “Alcohol Advertising.” Alcohol: Problems and Solutions. (Online). Available http://www2.potsdam.edu/alcohol-info/Advertising/Advertising.html, February 25, 2003.
Youth-Oriented Alcohol Advertising . 1997. Issue Briefs. Studio City, Calif.: Mediascope Press. Also available online at http://mediascope.org/pubs/ibriefs/yoaa.htm, February 25, 2003.