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Youth Exposed Hundreds of Millions of Times To Noncompliant Alcohol Ads on Cable TV

Rockville, Md.  –  A study conducted by Abt Global and Boston University School of Public Health found that between 2017 and 2019, US youth ages 2 to 20 were exposed nearly 27 billion times to alcohol ads on cable TV. Of these, 565 million exposures (roughly 2%) did not comply with the alcohol industry’s voluntary ad placement guidelines to prevent overexposure to youth. With support from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Abt/Boston University team is monitoring total and noncompliant youth exposure to alcohol ads on cable TV.

This report found that a small number of alcohol brands, TV programs, and network dayparts were responsible for the majority of noncompliant ad impressions. A noncompliant ad is one placed on a TV program in which youth exceed 28.4% of the televised viewing audience. Noncompliant ad impressions are the number of times such ads are seen by youth under age 21, including multiple viewings of an ad by a single individual. A daypart is a time of day during which a program may be televised; for example, “Primetime” is typically from 8PM to 11PM.

Using data from 2016-2019, the study assessed both long-term and emerging trends in underage alcohol ad exposure. The study found that:

  • Total youth exposure to alcohol ads on cable TV decreased by 16 percent, and noncompliant exposure decreased by 26 percent.
  • The 25 alcohol brands with the most noncompliant alcohol ad exposure were responsible for 71 percent of all noncompliant ads.
  • Seven of the 25 programs with the most noncompliant exposures were movies.   
  • Ads on sports programming accounted for one fourth of recent noncompliant exposures.

“Youth exposure to alcohol ads is linked to underage drinking,” notes Abt Associate Alicia Sparks, PhD, who leads the project. “By monitoring alcohol ads on cable TV, we can help hold the alcohol industry accountable to its guidelines designed to prevent adolescent alcohol use.”

This project is supported by CDC contract #200-2019-F-05607. The study’s contents are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of the CDC or the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

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