“A study of this kind has not been done for twenty years, and it shows that the alcohol industry earns billions of dollars from the sale of alcohol to minors,” said the author of the study Pamela Trangenstein, assistant professor at the Gillings School of Global Public Health at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
“It’s really shocking that underage drinkers generated $ 17 billion in alcohol sales through 2016,” said Marion Nestle, nutrition researcher, visiting professor of nutritional sciences at Cornell University and author of numerous food and beverage industry policy books.
“If we ever needed a reason to toughen alcohol policies, this study provides it,” said Nestlé, who was not on the study.
“It is by no means in the industry’s best interest to moderate the use of minors; this is where their future profits lie,” said Paul Gruenewald, scientific director of the Center for Research on Prevention from the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation, which was also not involved in the study.
“Demand is secured by getting young people to start drinking as early as possible in their lives, providing consistent demand throughout life,” said Gruenewald, who has researched alcohol availability since late. from the 1980s.
Access of minors to alcohol remains a problem
The study, which was sponsored by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), also looked at underage drinking patterns in 2011. The analysis showed a drop from 2011 to 2016 – minors consumed 11.7% of standard alcoholic beverages sold. in 2011 compared to 8.6% in 2016. In the United States, a standard drink is approximately 0.6 fluid ounces or 14 grams of pure alcohol, which differs depending on the type of adult drink consumed.
The study found that revenues from sales of alcoholic beverages consumed by minors also fell, from 10% of total sales ($ 208 billion) in 2011 to 7.4% of total sales ($ 237 billion). in 2016, down from $ 20.9 billion to $ 17.5 billion.
“Alcohol consumption and binge drinking remain common among high school and underage students,” said Shah, who was not involved in the study.
“Both of those numbers should be zero,” she said.
Despite decades of efforts to tackle adolescent access to alcohol, far too many young people fall through the cracks, experts say.
“It is widely known and recognized throughout the alcohol research community that young minors can directly or indirectly, through others, purchase alcohol at retail outlets,” said Gruenewald.
Alcohol poisoning, physical and sexual violence, and an increased risk of suicide and homicide among young people are also linked to alcohol abuse, and adolescents may experience changes in brain development that may have adverse effects. lifetime effects, according to the CDC.
Majority of sales to minors
Together, the products of these three companies accounted for about 45% of alcohol consumption by young minors in 2016, according to the study.
The rest of the miner market was mostly split between seven additional companies, but each had a significantly lower market share than the top three brands, according to the study. For example, the company with the fourth largest market share was “$ 592 million, not billions,” Trangenstein said.
CNN has reached out to Molson Coors, AB InBev and Diageo for comment. Molson Coors and AB InBev directed the request for comment to the Beer Institute, a professional organization, which responded by highlighting the many preventative measures efforts that the industry sponsors.
“For example, since 1982, Anheuser-Busch and its wholesale partners have committed more than $ 1 billion in national advertising campaigns and community programs to encourage responsible drinking and prevent underage drinking and driving. intoxicated, “said one The institute spokesperson told CNN.
The spokesperson also highlighted the actions of Molson Coors, which recently became “the first major brewing company to support the TruAge age verification system provided to all business channels by the National Association of Convenience Stores.”
“We only want the business of consumers who are of legal drinking age. We follow the drinking age laws in the United States. and the code of responsible industry practices, ”said the spokesperson for Diageo.
Solving the problem of underage alcohol use will require a concerted effort by everyone involved – parents, alcohol manufacturers, point-of-sale distributors and retailers, and local, state and federal governments, experts say.
“Higher legal minimum drinking ages, higher beverage taxes, reductions in the number and types of alcohol outlets, restrictions on days and times of sale and a host of other measures societals work, ”said Gruenewald.
“Sadly, American states do not choose these paths, but the paths are there.”
Parents need to be responsible in modeling reasonable alcohol consumption and limiting access to the home, which is “a primary source of alcohol for underage drinkers,” said Gruenewald.
“Never organize parties for young minors where alcohol is served. This encourages early onset, problematic consumption and its consequences,” he said.
“Rather, they get their alcohol from their parents and other adults of legal age,” Hawkins said. “Therefore, this survey reflects the branding choices of adults of legal purchasing age.”
Advertising by alcohol companies must also be closely monitored to ensure that they comply with applicable laws regarding limiting adolescent exposure to advertisements promoting alcohol, Trangenstein said.
But today’s teens have access to different forms of media, and at levels never seen in the past, said Shah of the Johnson Foundation, and it’s hard to make sure they’re not exposed to it. alcohol advertisements.
“Social networks are constantly evolving – Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok. We need to make sure that policies are updated to ensure that children who use social networks are not exposed to alcohol advertising. alcohol should be involved, ”Shah said.
Effective education is necessary
“If alcohol companies want to demonstrate their commitment to meaningful prevention, they could commit to devoting 0.5% of their gross revenue to an independent fund controlled by prevention experts,” Trangenstein said.
“We need a mechanism to put these funds into a separate, stand-alone fund where we can do what works to delay young people from starting to drink during their teenage years,” Trangenstein said.
“It’s not about blaming, it’s about doing what’s right,” she added. “This study is about the disconnect between large companies making substantial profits from risky behaviors of young people and how we can correct that.”