Although parents, schools, and the federal government are trying to get children and teenagers to “just say no” to drugs, more than $25 billion worth of cigarette, alcohol, and prescription drug advertising is effectively working to get them to “just say yes” to smoking, drinking and other drugs. In addition, television programs and movies contain appreciable amounts of substance use. Unlike traditional advertising, media depictions of legal drugs are generally positive and invite no criticism, because they are not viewed as advertising. The result is that young people receive mixed messages about substance abuse, and the media contributes significantly to the risk that young people will engage in teen drug use.

How Alcohol and Tobacco Advertising Attracts & Influences Young People?

The causes of adolescent substance use are endless. One factor often ignored is the role of the media. Alcohol and tobacco represent two of the most significant drug threats to adolescents. More than $25 billion per year is spent on advertising for alcohol, tobacco and prescription drugs, and such advertising has been shown to be effective. Digital media are increasingly being used to advertise drugs.

In addition, exposure to PG-13 and R-rated movies at an early age may be a major factor in the onset of adolescent tobacco and alcohol use. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends a ban on all tobacco advertising in all media, limitations on alcohol advertising, avoiding exposure of young children to substance-related (tobacco, alcohol, prescription drugs, illegal drugs) content on television and in PG-13 and R-rated movies, incorporating the topic of advertising and media into all substance abuse-prevention programs, and implementing media education programs in the classroom.

The Greatest Danger

Although illegal drugs take their toll on American society, the legal drugs – alcohol and tobacco – pose perhaps the greatest danger to children and teenagers. Both represent significant gateway drugs and are among the earliest drugs used by children or teenagers. A child or adolescent who smokes tobacco or drinks alcohol is 65 times more likely to use marijuana, for example, than someone who abstains. The younger the age at which experimentation occurs, the greater the risk of serious health problems. Every year, more than 400,000 Americans die from illnesses directly related to cigarette use – more than from AIDS, car crashes, murder, and suicide combined. More than 100,000 deaths annually can be attributed to excessive alcohol consumption.

Alcohol in the Media

Alcohol is advertised every day in the media, from big budget commercials to movies, billboards, YouTube videos, and everything in-between. There is also prominent use of celebrities to promote alcohol, such as Jennifer Aniston doing a commercial for Heineken beer. So this is a booming industry. In America, the government made 5.6 billion in 2010 from alcohol tax! Therefore television, along with social media platforms Facebook and Twitter among others, play a key part in increasing sales for alcohol. It is how marketers reach their target audience, in ensuring maximum sales worldwide.

Posting Pics on Social Media

Teens and young adults post pictures of themselves drinking and partying, usually for the purpose of letting other teens know what they are up to. This puts pressure on other teens to drink and get drunk in order to be liked and have fun. Because teens spend so much time on social media sites, they mistakenly think that everyone their age is drinking and that they will be more popular if they drink too. Alcohol is a dangerous substance, and underage drinking has many serious consequences. Besides the legal repercussions of underage drinking, this behavior can easily lead to accidents, poor decisions, drunk driving, alcohol toxicity, and death.

FTC to Re-examine Alcohol in Social Media

Twitter didn’t exist the last time the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) examined alcohol advertising, back in the last decade. Now hundreds of millions of tweets of alcohol advertising fly daily across the micro-messaging site, including an increasing number from wine, beer and liquor companies seeking marketing buzz. Its part of a new media frontier, one that the federal regulators are about to explore. In an ambitious venture, the FTC is requiring 14 major alcoholic beverage producers to release information about their Internet and digital marketing efforts.

The parent companies for storied wineries like Kendall-Jackson as well as beer and spirit distributors: Anheuser-Busch and Bacardi, are all being tapped for precious data likely to shape future advertising rules. Once completed, probably next year (2016), the study will guide FTC recommendations on how the alcohol industry should regulate itself both on and offline.

It is indisputable that  alcohol abuse is getting out of hand, and that it needs to be met head-on. Until this happens, parents must do their part to help mitigate some of the effects advertising can have on young people believing there is a cure for every problem they face and lead them into dangerous and addictive habits.

What can parents do?

Parents don’t need to feel helpless in the battle against the influences of advertising. Teaching children media literacy at school and in the home can help mitigate some of the effects of what children see in the media. It is recommended to encourage children to spend time away from the abundant sources of advertising that surround them. It should then not be ignored that young people are easily influenced by what they see, and as a society, we must teach the younger generation to be accountable for their decisions.