The Alcohol and Public Health Research Unit is an independent University based research unit in the Faculty of Medicine and Health Science of the University of Auckland. It has a long history of carrying out research on alcohol issues. Funding is obtained from contestable funding pools. The Units research proposals and subsequent publications of findings in international academic journals are subjected to rigorous processes of peer review.
Research links alcohol advertising and alcohol related harm
Research carried out in the 1980s on the relationship between alcohol advertising and alcohol consumption has frequently been described as inconclusive. However, a recent review concluded that research has been strengthened in subsequent years by careful conceptual and methodological critiques. Cross-national analysis of advertising bans, several correlational analyses of exposure to advertising, methodologically sound experimental studies and a longitudinal study all suggested some impact. Evidence that advertising has a small but contributory impact on drinking behaviour was considered stronger than in the 1980s (Edwards et al. 1994)
Research carried out since the 1994 review was published has further strengthened this conclusion.
A recent US study has linked alcohol advertising directly with measures of alcohol related harm, the main focus of alcohol policy. Econometric techniques were used to show that alcohol advertising is a contributing factor in the high level of motor vehicle fatalities (although less important than price). It was estimated that a ban on all broadcast alcohol ads (spirits were not advertised before 1996) could reduce US road deaths by 2000-3000 a year (Saffer 1997).
Research in New Zealand since the 1992 policy change to allow brand advertising on television suggests that alcohol brand advertising helps to recruit new young drinkers, and makes it difficult for problem drinkers to abstain (Casswell 1995; Holibar et al. 1994; Thomson et al. 1994). It also serves a broader function: confirming people in their current behaviour (Casswell & Martin 1986).
Trends in NZ drinking
It is often pointed out that overall drinking in New Zealand has declined from a high point in the 1970s. Incidence of some problems, eg cirrhosis of the liver, have declined as we would expect when consumption decreases. Based on a considerable body of research, our interpretation of this decline in aggregate consumption is that it has been influenced in large part by governments tax policy, which has indexed the price of alcohol to inflation and, during the 1990s, the loss of disposable income which lower income groups have experienced. This has led to a decline in the proportion of drinkers, particularly among the lower income groups. Drink driving measures, including CBT, have also had an impact. The greatly increased broadcast advertising of alcohol, and increased expenditure on advertising overall, has not had sufficient impact to halt this aggregate decline during these years, but there have nevertheless been measurable impacts on some sectors of the population.
Of particular concern is the increase in quantities young people have been drinking over the period since the quadrupling of alcohol advertisements on television. A recent analysis of Auckland telephone surveys conducted every year from 1990 to 1996 shows increases in the amount consumed on a typical occasion by14-19 year old drinkers, as well as increases in drunkenness and in the alcohol-related problems they reported. These increases are greater than increases in consumption among the adult drinkers and, among the 17 -19 year olds, amount to an average increase in consumption on a typical drinking occasion from four cans of beer (or glasses of wine) to seven cans of beer (Wyllie et al. 1998).
The increase in typical quantities consumed was particularly marked immediately following the 1992 policy change, during the year in which the average 10-17 year old was exposed to 317 viewings of some very powerful alcohol advertisements (Casswell, et al. 1994). The suggestion that this increase in heavy drinking among the young was affected by the new broadcast advertising is supported by the results of qualitative research carried out by the Alcohol and Public Health Research Unit at this time.
The pattern of binge drinking contributes to unacceptable levels of harm. Despite drink-driving campaigns which have lowered the rates considerably, alcohol still contributed to 28.8% of road deaths and 18% of injuries in 1996 (LTSA pers. comm). In its 1996 National Drug Policy, the Ministry of Health identified alcohol as an important factor in fatal falls, death from drowning, suicide, unsafe sex, and it is a significant aggravator of violence - street violence and disorder, family violence, crime and anti-social behaviour. A Treasury economist has conservatively estimated the annual net externality costs of alcohol at $423-$713 million a year (Hall 1996). Another economist using an international methodology puts the net annual cost of alcohol misuse at $16.1 billion a year (Easton 1997).
How alcohol advertising influences the young
Psychological research indicates that advertisements for particular brands also sell alcohol as a general product. One way advertising works is by making us more positive about things we see more often (Zajonc 1980, Eagly & Chaiken 1993). Drinking is portrayed as part of attractive lifestyles which appear within the reach of normal aspirations, and are designed to appeal to particular personality types (Casswell & Martin 1986). As a consultant psychologist to the alcohol industry noted in 1984 (Nathanson-Moog 1984):
Alcohol advertising is one of many things which affect young peoples drinking, including their families, friends, ease of access and the price. In New Zealand, research has shown that alcohol ads are well designed to meet important needs among young people (Wyllie 1997). They produce a positive emotional response which is particularly important in shaping younger peoples views of alcohol (Holibar et al 1994), as well as for those already encountering problems with drinking (Thomson et al. 1994; Thomson et al. 1997. They also suggest that drinking can provide positive benefits such as making sure you will have mates and are a real man. These are key goals for young people as they become adults. The most recent Lion Red ads (re rockclimbing and a young father coming home) on the theme What it is to be a man can be strongly associated with masculine identity without infringing the ASAs code on portrayal of minors and without even showing the product, just a logo.
Alcohol advertising is noticed by children in their formative years when their attitudes towards the use of alcohol are developing (Wyllie, Casswell & Stewart 1989). In a sample of New Zealand children aged 10 to 17 years, those who liked the television advertising more than the others also held significantly more positive views about drinking, and were more likely to say that they would be drinking at least weekly when aged 20. These expectancy measures are good indicators of likely future behaviour.
Among 10 to 13 year old boys, half said that they knew more about drinking from watching alcohol ads. The 14 to 17 year olds who liked the ads best were more likely to be already drinking. Part of this effect was because liking the ads was linked with feeling that drinking makes life more fun and exciting and people get on better together when theyve had a few drinks (Wyllie et al. 1994a&b: Holibar et al. 1994).
A longitudinal study of Dunedin teenagers has found that those who recalled more of the alcohol ads when aged 15 years drank larger quantities of beer when they were aged 18 (Connolly et al. 1994). A more recent analysis incorporating data from the same sample at an older age has found that how much the same young people liked alcohol advertising when they were aged 18 also had an effect on how much they were drinking at age 21. Those who liked the advertising the most drank more later and this heavier drinking was in turn linked to self reports of aggressive behaviour linked to their drinking. This effect was independent of how much they were drinking earlier (Casswell & Zhang, in press). Both of these recent analyses of longitudinal data from New Zealand are unique in investigating the impact of alcohol advertising within a longitudinal methodology and have strengthened the body of research in this area.
A broader policy review
This submission has covered briefly the growing body of New Zealand and overseas research which links alcohol advertising to problematic drinking patterns, and the changes in drinking patterns in New Zealand since the policy change in 1992 which allowed a fourfold increase in alcohol advertising on television. A particular concern is trends towards increased binge drinking by those still in their teens, as well as heavy drinking associated with alcohol related harm among 18-24 year old males.
Based on this research evidence, we do not believe it is healthy public policy to permit advertisements on television and radio which promote sales of a substance with high personal, social and fiscal costs. From a public health perspective a ban on alcohol advertising on the broadcast media is the preferred policy option.
Given the limited terms of reference of the ASAs review and the responsibility split between the Broadcasting Standards Authority and the ASA on such matters as saturation, we feel that issues around broadcasting and alcohol advertising should be revisited at the highest level of policy. Liquor law amendments scheduled for mid year will be raising many issues of policy around alcohol this year, and we believe that the public and policy debates should be widened to include alcohol advertising.
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Easton, B. (1997) The social costs of tobacco use and alcohol misuse. Public Health Monograph 2. Dept. Public Health, Wellington School of Medicine.
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Thomson, A., Bradley, E. Casswell, S. (1994) The responses of in treatment and recovering heavy drinkers to alcohol advertising on television. Alcohol & Public Health Research Unit.
Thomson, A., Bradley, E. Casswell, S. (1997) A qualitative investigation of the responses of in-treatment and recovering heavy drinkers to alcohol advertising on NZ television. Contemporary Drug Problems 24: 133-146.
Wyllie, A. (1997) Love the ads - love the beer: Young peoples responses to televised alcohol advertising. PhD Thesis. University of Auckland.
Wyllie, A., Zhang, J.F. & Casswell, S. (1994a) Response of 10 to 17 year olds to alcohol and host responsibility advertising on television: Survey data. Alcohol & Public Health Research Unit.
Wyllie, A., Zhang, J.F. & Casswell, S. (1994b) Response of 18 to 29 year olds to alcohol and host responsibility advertising on television: Survey data. Alcohol & Public Health Research Unit.
Wyllie, A., Zhang, J.F. & Casswell, S. (1998) Trends in drinking patterns in Auckland 1990 - 1996: Full Report. Alcohol & Public Health Research Unit.
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