About half of the alcohol advertising on radio is aired during youth-oriented programs, according to a new study that suggests beer and liquor companies are not abiding by a self-imposed ban on advertising to teens.
The report was released Thursday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
It is the first to assess alcohol radio advertising since 2003, when the alcohol industry vowed to no longer run ads on radio programs in which 30 percent or more of the audience is under 21.
"Kids in the United States are exposed to a heck of a lot of alcohol advertising, and it impacts what they drink and how much they drink," said Dr. Tim Naimi, a CDC epidemiologist who worked on the study with researchers from Georgetown University's Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth.
Industry officials criticized the report. They noted the figures were collected in the summer 2004, less than a year after the industry's code was instituted, and said that some long-standing advertising contracts had not yet expired.
"Brewers work to comply with the code every day," Jeff Becker, president of the Beer Institute, said in a statement.
The researchers monitored radio advertising in 104 markets, focusing on the 25 brands of alcoholic beverages with heaviest radio spending. They used Arbitron Ratings information to check the demographics of the audiences listening to various programs.
Twenty-one is the drinking age in all U.S. states.
About 15 percent of the U.S. population is in the 12-to-20 age bracket, but the percentage varies from market to market. A radio program was considered to be "youth-oriented" if the youth audience was larger than the percentage of youth in that market's population.
The researchers counted 67,404 beer, wine and liquor spots and said 32,800 of them — or 49 percent — were aired on youth-oriented programs.
Alternative rock and hip-hop were among the program formats that had the largest percentage of alcohol advertising. Alternative rock stations accounted for about one-quarter of youth exposure to alcohol ads in the sample, said David Jernigan, executive director of the Georgetown Center.
Researchers also looked at advertising on programs with audiences in which more than 30 percent were in the 12-to-20 age bracket. The 30 percent threshold was studied because in 2003 the Beer Institute and Distilled Spirits Council joined the Wine Institute in adopting a 30 percent threshold for radio advertising placement.
The researchers found that 14 percent of the alcohol advertising in the 104 markets was on programs exceeding the 30 percent threshold. Among major markets, the percentages were highest in Washington (38 percent), Detroit (26 percent), and Seattle and Dallas (both 20 percent).
Some brands violated the standard more than others. Among beers, Colt 45 Malt Liquor topped the list, with 87 percent of its ads on programs exceeding the 30 percent threshold. Nearly 1,100 Colt 45 Malt Liquor spots were run during such programs.
Colt 45 is made by the Pabst Brewing Co. A Pabst marketing official did not immediately return a call for comment Thursday.
Bud Light placed a much smaller proportion of its ads on such programs, 12 percent. But Bud Light advertises so heavily that there was a greater number of times — 2,415 — that a Bud Light ad aired on a program with a disproportionate number of youthful listeners.
Youth exposure to alcohol advertising is associated with increased youth drinking, public health officials say.
Among the studies they cite is an article by University of Connecticut researcher Leslie Snyder and others, published in January in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine. The study looked at 24 communities, and found drinking rates were higher among youths ages 15 to 20 who lived in markets with more alcohol advertising than in youths who lived with less advertising.
The alcohol industry and some scientists have challenged such findings, saying a clear cause-effect relationship has not been established.
The primary influence on teens' decisions to drink illegally is their parents, not advertising, Becker said.
Becker noted that 86 percent of the radio placements met the threshold, even though the data was collected soon after the self-imposed ban. "This underscores the effectiveness of self-regulation and our members' ongoing commitment to responsible advertising," Becker said.
The industry announced its code in September 2003 and the study's data collection did not begin until nine months later. Nine months is generally considered sufficient time to adjust advertising agreements, and some brands apparently were able to comply, Jernigan said.
"That suggests the level of attention to this maybe wasn't what it should have been," he said.
A Federal Trade Commission report scheduled to come out in the next year is expected to show a higher level of compliance, Beer Institute officials said.