The question, “Is alcohol advertising the cause of underage drinking?” seems to flow through the minds of many American families. The answer to the question largely depends upon the families view on drinking in general. Some homes encourage drinking every once in a while, for social purposes; while others condemn it all together.
The topic is very controversial with several factors weighing in such as religion, family background, and health. Despite the differing views, statistics have shown that underage drinking has reached a new height this past year. What is the cause of this rise in adolescent drinking? I will be reviewing the work of four different authors in an attempt to answer this question. Dina Berta grew up with alcohol in her home and believes that alcohol is a part of American life, and is a normal accompaniment to most social events. She said, “Most Americans enjoy drinking on a regular basis.” She feels that Americans are too “uptight” and that drinking socially, even underage, is not a problem. George Hacker and Robyn Suriano disagree with her and they feel that underage drinking has become a serious problem and that children are drinking more heavily at a younger age.
Suriano states, “alcohol is the most abused drug in the country, and the number of children trying alcoholic beverages before they reach 18 has doubled in the past decade.” Hacker agrees with this point by giving the statistic that 4.1 million kids younger than 18 tried alcohol in the year 2000. Hacker also states his belief that when the youth drink, they drink heavily and excessively. Suriano and Hacker both agree that the cause of excessive underage drinking is advertisements. The subject of alcohol advertisements negative effects on the behaviors of young people is very diverse. Most liquor and beer companies agree with Berta that the purpose of alcohol advertisings is to encourage drinkers to try new brands, not to promote excessive drinking.
Hacker states, “despite the intent of the industry, research shows that alcohol advertising does influence young people.” He strongly disagrees with Berta, stating that the advertisements have a negative effect. “It preprograms them to drink and drink excessively for a “good time.” Suriano also feels the advertisements have a negative effect. “It preprograms them to drink, attracts new drinkers, attracts drinkers to drink more, and makes it hard for those who have problems to stop.” Jon Kate, disagrees with Hacker and Suriano, and like Berta sides with the advertisers. Kate feels that advertisements are okay if they are portrayed to the right audience.
Kate feels that advertisements are acceptable if they are placed in areas which reach an “audience made up of at least 70% of adults over 21.” In his eyes advertisers are making significant changes in their plans in order to reduce the problem of underage drinking. Hacker and Suriano’s opinions differ from Kate’s, they believe that the advertisers know the large amounts of money brought in from the youth and place them as their target audience. Suriano states, “they know the mind of their audience and communicate effectively.” Hacker and Suriano’s ideas of the target audience differ, however. Suriano believes alcohol companies draw females to their advertisements by fashioning attitudes, behaviors, and physical attractiveness of drinkers. She says that females are “more vulnerable to imitate the attractive model shown on the television holding the drink.” Hacker feels differently and believes that through the use of athletes and celebrities industries are targeting African Americans. Berta believes they “are not deliberately targeting the youth.” Hacker feels that the alcohol industries are in fact targeting youth and are willing to say, “what they need to say”, in order to keep themselves out of trouble.
He believes that the advertisements are the number one cause of underage drinking and feels alcohol advertisements should be completely eliminated. He states, “complete elimination of advertisements could change adolescent monthly participation from 25 to 21% and binge participation from 12 to 7%..” Suriano agrees that the advertisements add to the problem of underage drinking but feels that they don’t need to be the only area of focus. She thinks higher taxes and changes within the home should be made. According to Suriano the nation should impose higher taxes on alcohol along with restrictions to advertise. She states, “It’s pretty obvious, particularly with young people, the more alcohol cost, the less likely they’ll buy.” The federal government currently levies $2.14 in taxes on 750 milliliter bottles of 80 proof spirits and 33 cents on a six-pack of beer but she feels that to get intended results taxes must be higher.
Suriano feels that a reduction in advertising and in taxes will decrease the amount of underage drinking but that the problem must be tackled at home as well.. Kate deems that underage drinking is not the fault of advertisements and that “messages should be focused on parents.” He feels parents often supply the alcohol and don’t even know how much their child is using. He states, “There is a huge disparity between what parents think their kids are drinking and what the kids themselves say they are drinking. According to Kate, parents underestimate how much drinking that their children are engaged in. Suriano agrees that parents are unaware of their child’s underage drinking and she gives a list of recommendations that all parents should go by in order to alleviate the problem.
The opinions of these four authors prove that alcohol advertising is an extremely controversial topic. When questioning American’s youth, you will get varied responses, similar to the conflicting opinions of the authors. Some homes side with Dina Berta and Jon Kate, while others agree more with Robyn Suriano and George Hacker. Alcohol industries see eye to eye with Berta and Kate. Berta feels advertising is fine and that drinking is a normal part of American culture. Kate feels that there is a problem with underage drinking but that advertisements are not the cause.
Robyn Suriano and George Hacker feel underage drinking is a big problem and action needs to take place in order to reduce underage drinking. Hacker blames advertisements while Suriano feels the problem stems from both advertisements and the family. As shown, the topic is very debatable, depending largely on personal upbringing and experiences. Hence, the question still remains, “Are alcohol advertisements the cause of underage drinking?”