Washington, DC – The Distilled Spirits Council today underscored its commitment to fighting underage drinking and criticized recent studies that have sought to connect advertising and marketing to underage drinking.
“The spirits industry is vehemently opposed to underage drinking and has worked aggressively to combat this serious, complex issue,” said Distilled Spirits Council President Peter H. Cressy.
Cressy, a former college president, pointed out that government-supported data show that underage drinking by teens has steadily declined over the decades:

  • According to the most recent government-supported Monitoring the Future study, “The use of alcoholic beverages has generally been in decline among American teens for the last several years, and that decline continued in all three grades [8th,10th, 12th] in 2005.”
  • Since reporting began in 1991, 8th grade “past month drinking” is down 32% and 10th grade “past month drinking” is down 22%; both at their lowest levels. First measured in 1975, 12th grade “past month drinking” has declined 33% since 1982 and also is at its lowest level.

“While progress has been made, any amount of underage drinking is too much and distillers have been leaders in forming partnerships with communities and state and federal agencies to stop illegal drinking by those under the legal purchase age,” Cressy stated.

He cited as examples the programs of The Century Council (www.centurycouncil.org), the distilled spirits industry’s not-for-profit organization dedicated to fighting illegal underage drinking and drunk driving. The Century Council’s most recent program, “Girl Talk,” helps mothers talk to their daughters about the risks of illegal, underage drinking. The U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team Players Association is supporting the program through personal appearances at functions and schools, in print and online media, public service announcements and other integrated marketing initiatives.

“The research is clear — parents and other adults are the most influential factors in a youth’s decisions about alcohol,” said Cressy. Further, he stated data from the National Academy of Sciences, the Federal Trade Commission and the American Medical Association show most youth who drink obtain alcohol primarily through non-commercial sources, such as family and friends and other adults over 21.

“Key to stopping underage drinking is stopping illegal youth access,” said Cressy. “We will continue to work with communities and local lawmakers to support legislation penalizing adults who knowingly and unlawfully provide alcohol to individuals under the age of 21. If teens can’t get it, they can’t drink it.”

Alcohol Advertising Does Not Cause Consumption
Cressy addressed the recently published research by Dr. Leslie Snyder, stating, “Decades of scientific research and literature do not show that alcohol advertising causes someone to drink, nor does this study according to advertising academic experts.”
He pointed out:

  • Results of Dr. Snyder’s study show that individuals who report seeing the most advertising actually decreased their drinking over the study’s 21-month period. This calls the study’s basic hypothesis into question.
  • The study’s findings are inconsistent with decades of research. For example, science repeatedly shows drinking rates among Caucasians to be higher than among African Americans, but the Snyder study shows the opposite.
  • The study’s authors acknowledge that they did not take into account primary factors that are known to influence underage drinking – parents and peers.

In addition, Cressy cited significant problems with the study’s methodology that include:

  • An unprecedented and unvalidated measure of alcohol consumption was used. The calculation used in this study adds a “maximum number of drinks consumed in a month” to the estimated average drinks in a month, which already takes the maximum into account. This results in inflated measures and distorted data.
  • Over two-thirds of the study participants dropped out of the study before its end, which is an unusually high attrition rate and compromises the reliability of both the findings and comparisons based on the data.

Importantly, he added, the marketplace reality shows that per capita alcohol sales volume has declined or remained flat over the last two decades while alcohol advertising expenditures have increased.

Cressy also addressed the advertising research by the Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth, stating that CAMY’s own research has been called into question by the Federal Trade Commission in its 2003 Report to Congress.

The Federal Trade Commission reviewed CAMY’s research and noted “potential distortions” could arise from CAMY’s methodology. When viewed in context, the FTC concluded, “CAMY’s data confirm, however, that adults are in fact the primary audience for alcohol advertising.”

Further, the FTC has conducted three intensive reviews of alcohol advertising over the last six years and, in each case, concluded that alcohol ads were directed to adults.

Distillers Committed to Responsible Advertising
Cressy stated that the nation’s distillers are committed to responsible advertising and have a long history of successful self-regulation. For more than 70 years, distillers have abided by a voluntary advertising and marketing Code, which provides for a Code Review Board that quickly reviews complaints about advertising and marketing. The complaints, actions taken by the Board and the response by each advertiser are made public through the issuance of semi-annual public reports.

Cressy stated that both industry regulators and watchdogs have taken notice of the distilled spirits industry’s approach to self-regulation, calling it a model for other industries.

He cited a March 9, 2005 Washington Post article in which the director of the Federal Trade Commission’s alcohol advertising program stated that self-regulation permits the spirits companies to “address things that couldn’t be touched by a government agency because of the First Amendment” and commended the spirits industry’s self-regulatory efforts stating, “[t]his is a far step above and beyond what other companies are doing.”