New York Law School

Black Youth Are More Exposed to Alcohol

Turn to your favorite hip-hop TV station.  Watch the advertisements. Open up the latest issue of Jet or Vibe magazine.  Turn on the radio.  It’s everywhere—the African American youth culture is knee deep in alcohol exposure.  A recent study published by John Hopkins University Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth (CAMY) reinforces that it’s time to begin implementing some changes.

On September 27, 2012, CAMY released a study putting some concrete data findings behind their concerns of marketing to Black youth.  The focus of the CAMY study was to: (1) analyze exposure of alcohol advertising by type and brand among Black youth ages 12-20 in comparison to all youth ages 12-20; and (2) assess the exposure of Black youth ages 12-20 to alcohol advertising relative to Black adults and all adults, and accordingly the extent to which Black youth were exposed to more alcohol advertising relative to adults in magazines, on radio, and on television.

The bottom line: African Americans ages 12 to 20, generally consuming more media than other non-African American youth, are exposed to far more alcohol advertisements on TV and in magazines than youth in general.

As demonstrated by the CAMY study, African American youth were exposed to 32 percent more alcohol advertising in magazines than all non-African American youth.  Specifically, Black youth were exposed to 22 percent more beer advertising, 38 percent more distilled spirits advertising, 92 percent more alcopops (cheap, sweet, fizzy alcohol drinks that are of particular concern to advocates because they appeal to youth) advertising, and 9 percent less wine advertising than all non-African American youth.  The study shows that the alcohol advertising in magazines has decreased however, in keeping with a trend shifting advertising from magazines to cable television.

Based on the amount of alcohol advertisements displayed, five publications–Jet, Essence, Ebony, Black Enterprise, and Vibe magazines–generated at least twice as much exposure to Black youth compared to all non-Black youth.  These five publications accounted for 20 percent of all Black youth exposure to alcohol advertisements.

In regards to television advertisements, Black youth ages 12 to 20 were exposed to 17 percent more alcohol advertising than all non Black youth ages 12 to 20, including 16 percent more exposure to beer advertising, 20 percent more exposure to distilled spirits advertising, 12 percent more exposure to advertising for alcopops, and 17 percent more exposure to wine advertising.

Twenty networks, including TV One and BET accounted for 50 percent of all Black youth exposure and generated at least 20 percent more Black youth exposure compared to all other youth.

In regards to radio advertisements, studies show that while Black youth heard 26 percent less radio advertisements for alcohol than all youth in general, they heard 32 percent more advertising for distilled spirits.  The study also found that Black youth are significantly more exposed to alcohol advertising in comparison to other youth in Urban and Urban Adult Contemporary radio stations.

The results are clear: Black youth receive substantially more exposure to alcohol advertising in magazines and on television, and more exposure to distilled spirits ads on the radio, than non-Black youth in general.  CAMY researchers attribute these results to two phenomena: 1) Many alcohol ads specifically target African Americans and 2) African American youth consume more media than youth overall.  However, despite the disproportionate advertisements that the Black youth are exposed to, CAMY researchers report that young Blacks actually drink less than youth of other racial and ethnic groups.  Some representatives of the alcohol industry argue that the higher rates of exposure, yet lower rates of alcohol use by Black youth plainly disprove any link between the amount of exposure to alcohol advertisements youth receive and the actual alcohol use of youths.. CAMY counters by offering some reasoning, stating that  media effects are complex.  CAMY attributes the overexposure to Black youth but less actual consumption of alcohol by Black youth to other factors such as poverty, social norms, and religion.

Here’s the dilemma faced: Given the higher levels of media usage among African-Americans, do alcohol marketers have an obligation to avoid overexposure or to more reasonably monitor the way in which advertising is performed?

David Jernigan, director of CAMY, would answer in the affirmative.  He maintains there’s a reason to be so careful.  Alcohol consumption links to three leading causes of death among African American youth–homicide, suicide, and accidental injury.  As well, Black youth who drink more seem to suffer more serious consequences than non-Black youth who drink, which Jernigan relates to their access to health care and substance abuse treatments, living in poorer neighborhoods, and the fact that young Blacks are incarcerated more frequently than other non-Black youth.

If, like David Jernigan, you believe that there needs to be some changes in alcohol advertisements and overexposure to the Black youth, the question is “How?”  How do we begin, or continue, enforcing standards? Where do we put the focus?  In our own neighborhoods?  In our own states?  National legislative enforcement?

As has previously been done in the 90’s, in order to reduce the alcohol ad exposure, local ordinances could be passed to limit the advertising of alcohol.  However, without strict monitoring and enforcement of compliance, these efforts may be of little to no use in helping limit exposure.

Currently, members of the beer, wine, and distilled spirits trade association “self regulate.”  For example, they have agreed to avoid placing alcohol advertisements during TV programs consisting of audiences made up of 28.4 percent or more people under the age of 21.  Since Black youth consume much more television than other youth, minor changes like this–not advertising to an audience under 21—are likely to make a huge impact on the Black youth. However, advocates argue that these self-regulated standards are poorly enforced and some advocates, such as Alcohol Justice’s Livingston, would even like to see government regulations.

The National Research Council and Institute of Medicine as well as 24 attorney generals of various states have called on alcohol companies to adopt stronger self-regulatory standards to better shield youth from exposure to alcohol advertising.

This CAMY report, which clearly demonstrates that certain media outlets and specific brands deliver higher exposure to Black youth clearly shows the need for more stringent standards as well as other forms of self-control on behalf of alcohol advertisers.

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