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The impact of alcohol advertising: Distilling the arguments and the evidence.

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Introduction

The impact of alcohol advertising: Distilling the arguments and the evidence ABSTRACT: Although alcohol advertising has been the topic of substantial analysis and enquiry, a few key arguments and perceptions still pervade this debate - that alcohol advertising leads to increased consumption, and in turn increased alcohol abuse, by either stimulating demand and/or social conditioning. Within the space constraints of this article, the argument that advertising increases consumption, and the subsequent research, evidence and analysis, are examined. Regrettably, the impact of alcohol advertising on social conditioning (particularly amongst 'vulnerable' groups), which is still open to debate and further research, is not able to be addressed here. The article concludes that weight of thirty years' research and evidence clearly proves that alcohol advertising does not increase overall consumption. "Many people look for a black and white answer. If advertising does affect market size sometimes, then it does so always. Or, it never does. Much that has been written takes up one or the other of these extreme views. This is largely because the contentious markets - alcohol and tobacco especially - are subjects of debate in which the political and adversarial mode dominates, rather than scientific enquiry. Issues of public policy are involved: fiscal, legal and social concerns. This implies advocacy and simplified positions." (Ambler, Broadbent & Feldwick, 1998) Introduction The pros and cons of alcohol in society have long been the subject of contentious debate amongst many sectors of the community - particularly those concerned with health, welfare, religion, law enforcement and public policy, and those from the direct and indirect alcohol industry. ...read more.

Middle

Casswell (1995, p.396) also argues that expenditure on advertising should not be used as a proxy for exposure to advertising, though Nelson (2001) also questions the validity and empirical integrity of the exposure experiments conducted by Casswell and others. Bang (1998) suggests that although increases in advertising expenditure do not increase overall consumption, that studies have found "some small but positive relationships" with regard to specific advertising medium and specific beverage types, and that more studies are needed. b) The effect of bans on alcohol advertising If alcohol advertising leads to an increase in consumption, we would expect bans on alcohol advertising to lead to a reduction in alcohol consumption. However, the historical facts (from countries that have introduced or relaxed bans) do not support this simplified proposition. Horgan's (1986, p.12) review of one hundred reports found that "there is little empirical support for the effectiveness of a ban on advertising". Calfee & Scheraga (1994) state that "statistical examination of advertising bans imposed or relaxed by US States or Canadian provinces shows no effect on alcoholic sales as a result of advertising bans." Ambler (1996) reviewed 7 studies of areas where bans on advertising have been imposed or lifted, and concluded that "restrictions on alcohol advertising are not a contributory factor which will influence the overall level of consumption, nor, more importantly, reduce alcohol abuse". In the most recent (and comprehensive) analysis, Nelson & Young (2001) studied bans on broadcast advertising in seventeen OECD countries for the years 1977-95. They found that "the empirical results do not support the notion that bans of broadcast advertising of alcoholic beverages will reduce consumption or alcohol abuse" and that "a complete ban of broadcast advertising of all beverages has no effect on consumption relative to countries that do not ban broadcast advertising" (Nelson & Young, 2001). ...read more.

Conclusion

Fisher (1993, p.150), citing some 150 references, concludes that advertising does not affect alcohol consumption or abuse. Pittman (1996) concludes that his earlier (1978) conclusion that "no scientific evidence exists that beverage alcohol advertising has any significant impact on the rate of alcohol abuse and alcoholism" still stands nearly twenty years later. Nelson (2001) concludes that the answer to whether there exists "a direct and material effect of advertising on the overall level of alcohol consumption or alcohol abuse" is no. Conclusion The significant body of research from the last two or three decades has clearly found that alcohol advertising has no significant impact on the community's consumption of alcohol. It has been shown that increased advertising expenditure does not lead to increased consumption, and that per capita consumption has significantly and consistently decreased during times of sustained increased advertising expenditure in some countries. It has also been shown that the imposition or relaxing of bans on alcohol broadcasting has made no difference to consumption levels within the jurisdiction concerned, or comparatively with other jurisdictions. Furthermore, it has been demonstrated that advertising generally has no significant impact on market size, only brand or beverage shares of the market. Finally, it has been argued that if alcohol advertising has any influence on consumption through an impact on alcohol prices, it is likely to be to reduce consumption. In the quote at the beginning of this paper, Ambler et al (1998) lament that in response to these vexed public policy questions, people seek "black and white answers" and neglect "scientific enquiry". However, in this case, scientific enquiry, extensive research and many real-life case studies appear to have delivered a black and white answer - that alcohol advertising has no significant impact on overall alcohol consumption. ...read more.

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