Underage Drinking – Media, Advertising & Where to now?

In 2006/7, around 8000 teenagers were admitted to hospitals in the UK because of alcohol abuse, according to figures from the Liberal Democrats. Yet, while there are increasing restrictions on the sale of alcohol, and plans to ban “All-You-Can-Drink” as well as the CAP Code on Non-Broadcast Promotions and the BCAP Code on Broadcast Advertising, the trend in teenage/underage drinking remains upward. A variety of studies have shown that there is a direct effect between exposure to alcohol advertising and alcohol consumption (Anderson, de Bruijn, Angus, et al, 2009).

Yet, the evidence seems to be that young people see more not less alcohol related advertising. In Australia, there was a virtually identical exposure of underage (under 18) teenagers to television alcohol advertising in Melbourne as those old enough to drink, with lesser but still significant exposure in other cities (Fielder, Donovan & Ouschan, 2009) and in one US survey, underage adolescents (under the age of 21) saw almost 10% more alcohol advertising than those old enough to drink (Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth, 2007). However, few studies have so far  addressed the situation in the UK, nor have any studies addressed how teenagers get exposed to alcohol related messages through other media forms, especially online and mobile social networking platforms.

A short survey of social networking website (Dahl, 2010, under review) shows that however there is a significant presence of alcohol related promotional messages and fan groups on social networking websites. And, what is probably equally worrying, is that while some of these groups are not visible to underage adolescents – the vast majority of them is not. Given the unique context of social networking, the power of vWOM – and the lack of a regulatory framework (and even possibility for regulation), this topic may well become a major concern for public policy and health prevention policy in the near future.

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