The Joe Camel of our time

Nov. 17, 2004, midnight | By Emily-Kate Hannapel | 17 years, 6 months ago

Beer commercials target teens, glamorize underage drinking

The gentle hum of nature fills the air. The sound of crickets chirping and frogs croaking fill the background. In the midst of this scene, three frogs sit on a log.

This peaceful scene is from the 1996 Budweiser commercial featuring the unforgettable catchphrase "Bud-weis-er.” In fact, this phrase was so memorable that a study by the Berkeley Center on Alcohol Advertising found that children ages nine to 11 were more familiar with these frogs than with figures such as the Power Rangers or even Smokey the Bear.

Unfortunately, this is not the only beer ad that targets underage viewers. A study by Georgetown University's Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth (CAMY) found that all 15 of the television shows with the highest number of teen viewers featured alcohol ads. In total, alcohol advertisers spent $30 million dollars to place over 2,600 ads on shows like Friends, Fear Factor and Smallville"all shows with a heavy teen following.

Thanks to these ads, the message that underage drinking is acceptable has been perpetuated at Blair. Recent alcohol-related suspensions at Blair football games and the Homecoming dance demonstrate that underage drinking is clearly a problem among Blair students. According to the Family First Group, 80 percent of high-schoolers nationwide have tried beer. In 1998, underage drinkers consumed $27 billion worth of alcohol"nearly a quarter of all the alcohol sold in the U.S.

The media has proven to be a large force behind underage drinking. According to a Federal Trade Commission report, "There is reason to believe that advertising plays a role," in influencing an underage persons drinking decisions.

Besides the obvious legal repercussions of underage drinking, students who choose to drink early are at a risk for other consequences says Jay Hedlund, the manager of the campaign for Alcohol Free Sports TV. People who drink before age 15 are 50 percent more likely to develop an alcohol dependency, he explains. When drinking, teens are putting themselves in dangerous situations. Every day three teens die from drinking and driving, and at least six more die of other alcohol-related causes.

Recent research shows a connection between the mass advertising teens are exposed to and the pressure to unlawfully drink. Teens are viewing more alcohol ads than ever before. CAMY found that almost 90,000 additional alcohol-related television ads appeared in 2003 than in 2001, and teens ages 13 to 19 saw an average of 245 alchol-related ads in 2001. They saw more ads for beer than for other products like juice, gum, chips, sneakers or jeans.

While there is no definite study linking alcohol commercials to underage drinking, the motives of alcohol advertisers are obvious. "Why would [alcohol] advertisers be spending so much if they didn't think it would help their return?" Hedlund says.

Until stricter policies are placed on the alcohol industry to force them into regulating their commercials, teens continue to be the target of beer ads. Just as cigarette commercials were outlawed from television in 1971 due to the health concerns of smoking, it is time for the alcohol industry to face a ban or, at the very least, heavy restrictions.

Regulations should prohibit alcohol commercials on shows were teens make up over 15 percent of the viewership. In addition, advertisers should not be allowed to air ads during primetime television, and, most importantly, advertisers should show it like it is"it's about time we saw an old man passed out, or a women who needed a liver transplant after years of alcohol addiction. Until then, it's goodbye Joe Camel, and hello to a new generation of underage alcoholics.

Want to help end underage drinking? Contact your senator or Representative today and urge them to co-sponsor the STOP Underage Drinking Act (Bill S. 2718 and H.R. 4888.)

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Emily-Kate Hannapel. If Emily-Kate were to die tomorrow, she would want to be eating ice cream when it happened. Ben & Jerry's Heath Bar Crunch, to be exact. She is the president and sole member of Blair's Vegetarian Club, a captain of the Varsity Field Hockey Team, … More »

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