In the United States, it’s National Drug and Alcohol Facts Week (NDAFW).

One fact is that the alcohol industry is out of touch with reality. It’s words, talking points and PR messages are grotesquely different from its actions and impact on the world.

An example for this fact is the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States, a lobby group of American liquor producers, and its “Seventh Annual Best Practices Media Summit”, held January 14 in Washington D.C. The summit focused on responsible social media marketing for alcohol.

On the same day, new research was published that would make the headlines and fill the news ether for days: “Adult and adolescent exposure to tobacco and alcohol content in contemporary YouTube music videos in Great Britain: a population estimate”.

In a news article on the site “Beverage Dynamics” the following sentence summarised the DISCUS event:

Presenters Included Facebook, Google/YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, Periscope, Foursquare, Nielsen and comScore. The event focused on social media and compliance with the DISCUS Responsible Advertising Code.

Big Alcohol targeting youth on YouTube

The new researched published on January 14, specifically addresses YouTube. It shows that a large number of music videos on YouTube contains extensive alcohol and tobacco content, often depicted with positive connotations. These videos tend to be most popular with younger audiences. However, regulators have largely been ignoring this issue.

Music videos for Beyonce’s Drunk in Love and Robin Thicke’s Blurred Lines are saturated with depictions of alcohol use and smoking, making them a health hazard for young people, public health experts say.

Researchers at the UK Centre for Tobacco and Alcohol Studies of the School of Medicine at the University of Nottingham used the results of two nationally representative online surveys of British adults and teens to calculate viewing figures for the 32 most popular music videos of top 40 chart songs in the UK during the 12 weeks of 3 November 2013 to 19 January 2014.

In total, 2068 adolescents aged between 11 and 18 years of age, and 2232 adults from the age of 19 and onwards completed the surveys. The results suggest that the average percentage of viewing across the 32 music videos was 22% for teens and 6% for adults.

Based on population census data, the researchers calculated that these delivered a total of 1006 million impressions of alcohol and 203 million of tobacco to the British population during the period between release of the video and the point of the survey.

Most of this content was delivered to 25-34 year olds, but levels of individual exposure were almost four times higher among teens, the figures indicated.

Children aged 13 to 15 received an average of 11.48 tobacco impressions, while those aged 16 to 18 received an average of 10.5. This compares with 2.85 for adults. Furthermore, exposure was around 65% higher among girls, with the highest numbers of tobacco impressions delivered to 13-15 year olds.

The pattern of exposure for alcohol was similar to that of tobacco. But the overall number of impressions was five times higher.

An estimated 52.11 alcohol impressions were delivered to each teen compared with 14.13 to each adult. Individual exposure levels rocketed to 70.68 among 13-15 year old girls.

“Trumpets” by Jason Derulo, and “Blurred Lines” by Robin Thicke delivered some of the highest number of tobacco impressions, while ”Timber” by Pitbull,  and “Drunk in Love” by Beyoncé, delivered the most alcohol content.

The researchers write:

If these levels of exposure were typical, then in 1 year, music videos would be expected to deliver over 4 billion impressions of alcohol, and nearly 1 billion of tobacco, in Britain alone.

Further, the number of impressions has been calculated on the basis of one viewing only; however, many of the videos had been watched multiple times, so this number is likely to be much bigger.”

Evidence shows that teens exposed to advertising (product placement etc.) of alcohol and tobacco content in films are more likely to take up smoking or use of alcohol, or that youth consumes more alcohol if they had already started.

Alcohol advertising is largely self-regulated by the alcohol industry and the Portman Group who speaks on behalf of the UK alcohol industry. The Advertising Standards Authority also provides guidance on marketing of alcohol products in the UK. The existing self-regulatory guidelines state:

Marketing communications for alcoholic drinks should not be targeted at people under 18 and should not imply, condone or encourage immoderate, irresponsible or anti-social drinking”.

As the new research shows, the alcohol industry is failing their own commitment to protect children and youth.

The researchers explain that

[Music videos pose a] significant health hazard that requires appropriate regulatory control.

Owing to the obvious health implications for adolescents, we suggest that overly positive portrayals of both alcohol and tobacco in music videos should be included in both the drug misuse and dangerous behaviour presented as safe rating categories.”

Big Alcohol targeting youth on Facebook

More than four years ago, Diageo and Facebook struck a multimillion dollar deal that would allow the largest liquor company in the world to advertise on Facebook. Back then, The Guardian wrote that advertising to the predominantly young people who use Facebook had been hugely profitable for Diageo, the maker of the favorit product among most teenagers, Smirnoff vodka.

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Big Alcohol systematically violating its own rules and codes of conduct

In the news article about the DISCUS event, the “DISCUS Responsible Advertising Code” is mentioned as a topic. As it happened, on January 13, just a day before the DISCUS event, new research was published that analysed youth exposure to alcohol advertising on cable television, including an analysis of how the alcohol industry lives up to its own rules and codes of self-regulation.

This is what the researchers found:

Underage youth were exposed to more than 15 billion noncompliant alcohol advertising impressions from 2005 through 2012, and almost all of these noncompliant impressions (96%) resulted from advertisements that aired on cable television programs.

Furthermore, almost all of the noncompliant alcohol advertising exposures on cable televi- sion programs (99.4%) aired on programs that were either known to have previously violated the alcohol industry’s placement standards (i.e., were serially noncompliant), ran during periods that were known to be popular among under- age youth (i.e., high-risk network dayparts), or were known to have a small number of adult viewers (i.e., low rated).”

If the alcohol industry had taken its own rules seriously, and not just used them for PR purposes, children and young people could have been protected from exposure to alcohol advertising.

But the alcohol industry, including DISCUS and their member companies, has fumbled its chance to show that they are responsible; that they respect the sanctity of childhood; that they take their own rules of self-regulation seriously and that they abide by the laws. The alcohol industry has failed.

And so, within just two days in the beginning of this year, it’s possible to illustrate the fact that Big Alcohol is out of touch with reality.

For further reading:

CRAIG S. ROSS, PH.D., M.B.A., ROBERT D. BREWER, M.D., M.S.P.H., DAVID H. JERNIGAN, PH.D.: “The Potential Impact of a “No-Buy” List on Youth Exposure to Alcohol Advertising on Cable Television

Jo Cranwell, Magdalena Opazo-Breton, John Britton: “Adult and adolescent exposure to tobacco and alcohol content in contemporary YouTube music videos in Great Britain: a population estimate

About NDAFW: An annual, week-long observance that brings together teens and scientific experts to shatter persistent myths about substance use and addiction will feature information about alcohol in addition to drug use. Now called National Drug and Alcohol Facts Week (NDAFW), the observance will be held Jan. 25-31, 2016, and is sponsored by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) and the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), both part of the National Institutes of Health. The institutes often work together on research and prevention initiatives.

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