What does the media tell us about alcohol? That it’s sexy and glamorous. That hot people drink it or drinking it makes one more attractive. That good things only come from drinking it. That there isn’t much responsibility that goes along with drinking it…etc.
I raise the question of whether it is ethically responsible to show alcohol ads on TV when people under 21 are obviously viewing them, and the ads are definitely having an influence on their attitudes about alcohol.
Many would argue that publishing racist, sexist or anti-Semitic ads would inflict harm on the public because of the hurt and influence they can have on people. Not publishing these ads is the ethical thing to do, but these ads with their potential harm are no different than many other ads that in circulation today. The alcohol and tobacco industries are incredibly lucrative businesses – definitely credited to the amount of advertising they do in print media and broadcast outlets, and I don’t anyone would argue that these products are not harmful.
Alcohol ads are constantly broadcast on television networks, and people under 21 are often exposed to behavior-influencing content through a countless number of ads. There have been many studies and content analyses examining whether exposure to alcohol ads increases young people’s tendencies to drink alcohol. In a study from 2004 titled Alcohol Advertising Exposure and Perceptions: Links with Alcohol Expectancies and Intentions to Drink or Drinking in Underaged Youth and Young Adults, researchers Kenneth Fleming, Esther Thorson, and Charles Atkin found the following results.
Alcohol advertising is influential in shaping young people’s attitudes and perceptions about alcohol advertising messages. The attitudes and perceptions predicted both positive expectancies and intentions to drink of those under the legal drinking age…Positive expectancies are powerful predictors of intentions to drink and consumption for both groups. The effects of alcohol advertising on intentions to drink of those aged 15 to 20 years are mediated by cognitive responses to advertising messages and positive expectancies. (Fleming, Thorson, Atkin)
Alcohol advertisements do not only influence young people to drink, but also have an effect on legal-drinking-aged people to want to drink (Fleming, Thorson, Atkin). Alcohol is abused in the United States far too much, and all the advertising supporting its consumption makes people drink, often without considering the dangerous side effects.
Drunk driving is still a prevalent issue, regardless of laws and the dangers, and alcohol-related deaths are high in numbers. With these facts in mind, should it be argued that all alcohol-related advertisements be pulled from the media? It is not plausible to prevent the publishing of alcohol advertisements, because although they debatably inflict harm on viewers, alcohol companies are protected by the First Amendment to advertise their product.
It should be kept in mind how much advertising can influence people’s behaviors and attitudes, and that sometimes they are nearly irresponsible.