Underage drinking is a significant public health problem in the United States and accounted for approximately 3,500 deaths and $53 billion in health and social costs in 1996.
Youth exposure to alcohol marketing predicts awareness of alcohol advertising, which in turn influences youth intentions to drink as well as drinking behavior. Teens ages 12-17 listen to radio more than any other age group and more than they watch television, surf the Internet or read magazines for pleasure.
To assess youth exposure to alcohol advertising on radio relative to young adults and all adults over 21, researchers from the Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth analyzed a sample of more than 50,000 radio ad placements for 25 leading brands of alcohol in 104 U.S. radio markets in the summer of 2003.
Based on an advertising industry standard measure of gross rating points, youth ages 12-20 in 92 of these 104 markets heard more radio advertising per capita for alcohol brands than adults 21 and above; in 29 markets youth also heard more per capita than young adults ages 21-34.
The alcohol industry recently reformed its advertising codes to provide that underage youth be no more than 30% of the audience. Before the codes were reformed and when these ads aired, the industry abided by a 50% threshold for underage youth. In this analysis 28% of the ads would have exceeded the 30% threshold. These findings suggest that the industry will have to change its radio advertising practices significantly and that ongoing independent monitoring will be critical to ensure compliance.