African-American youth seeing more alcohol ads

A customer walks out of Tom Liquor store located at the intersection of Florence and Normandy Avenues in South Los Angeles.

Young African-Americans are being exposed to substantially more ads for alcohol than the rest of their peers, according to report by the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health.

Federal health officials had already estimated one in three African-American high school students drinks, and Johns Hopkins health and behavior expert David Jernigan thinks his study helps explain why. "If you've got a group of young people like African-American youth that consume more media," he says, "they're going to get even more exposed."

Alcohol ads aimed at an African-American audience are widespread. Rapper Ice Cube appears in a series of TV commercials for "super cold" Coors Light. Hip-hop artists Snoop Dogg and Ludacris endorse different brands of cognac in videos posted to YouTube. Ludacris declares that his favorite brand "is the premiere cognac that you need in your life -- premiere liquor, period!"    

The new report finds young African-Americans see 32 percent more alcohol advertising than their 12-to-20 year old peers. But the Beer Institute's Chris Thorne says his industry doesn't want underage drinking in any community. He says members abide by a strict, self-imposed marketing code so their advertising "only reaches its intended audience of legal-age adults."  

Dr. Jernigan,  who heads an organization called the Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth, concedes that the industry might not be appealing intentionally to a younger audience, but he says it does specifically target the African-American market. He contends the end result is still the same, and that "too much spillover" sometimes exposes kids "more effectively than African-American adults."

The industry argues that it's made good progress in reducing underage drinking, and points to a federal study out this week that shows steady overall declines.  


Statement from the Beer Institute:

“The beer industry has long followed a strict, self-imposed advertising and marketing code to ensure its advertising only reaches its intended audience of legal-age adults. The Federal Trade Commission regularly reviews the industry’s advertising practices to ensure these standards are met. Because we do not want underage people in any community to drink beer, the industry works with lawmakers, law enforcement, parents, community groups, and others in an ongoing fight to curb underage drinking.

“The industry is encouraged by more and more studies that show declines in underage drinking. In fact, the Department of Health and Human Services released a report just this week, which found that past month alcohol use, binge drinking and heavy drinking all continued their significant decline last year since 2002. But there is always more work to be done, and the beer industry will continue its substantial efforts to prevent underage drinking.”

About the author

Bob Moon is Marketplace’s senior business correspondent, based in Los Angeles.

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