M.T.A. Will Ban Alcohol Advertising on New York City Buses and Subways

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An ad for beer on the New York City subway

Last month, reported The New York Times, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority board voted to ban advertising of alcoholic beverages on New York City buses, subway cars and stations, contending that the social benefits of deterring underage drinking outweighed the loss of revenue.  After years of pressure from grass-roots organizations, the board voted unanimously in favor of the ban, which will go into effect in January.  Advocates have long said that alcohol advertising is a public health issue and that the proliferation of such advertising increases the likelihood of underage drinking.  “Alcohol advertisements on the M.T.A. are disproportionally targeting communities of color, lower-income communities and also young people,” said Jazmin Rivera, a spokeswoman for Building Alcohol Ad-Free Transit.

In a letter to the editor responding to the article, David Jernigan, director of the Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, wrote “subways are the way many New York City young people get to school every day. The M.T.A.’s decision will help reduce their exposure to alcohol advertising, and is a significant step in the right direction.”

The Regulation of Alcohol Marketing: From Research to Public Health Policy

A new special issue of the journal Addiction examines the state of knowledge on regulating alcohol marketing.  In an overview, Maristela Monteiro, Thomas Babor, David Jernigan and Chris Brookes summarize three key themes in these papers: alcohol marketing causes harm to vulnerable populations; industry self-regulation is ineffective in protecting vulnerable populations; and alternatives are available to address the problem.  They conclude that renewed action by governments to control alcohol marketing is needed.

Youth Exposure to Alcohol Ads on TV Growing Faster than Adults

Late last year, the Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth (CAMY) at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health released its latest report on television alcohol marketing to youth. The new report shows that the average American youth sees one television ad for alcohol per day. While one a day is great for vitamins, it’s not a good prescription for young people being exposed to alcohol advertising. This is a significant and troubling escalation, and shows the ineffectiveness of the industry’s current voluntary standards. Here’s what our report found:

Youth exposure to alcohol advertising on U.S. television increased 71 percent between 2001 and 2009, more than the exposure of either adults ages 21 and above or young adults ages 21 to 34, according to the analysis from CAMY.

Driving this increase was the rise of distilled spirits advertising on cable television. Youth exposure to all distilled spirits TV advertising was 30 times larger in 2009 than in 2001, with significant growth occurring in distilled spirits ads on cable. By 2009, the majority of youth exposure to advertising for all alcoholic beverages on cable was occurring during programming that youth ages 12 to 20 were more likely to be watching than adults 21 and above.

Under pressure from the Federal Trade Commission to reduce youth exposure to alcohol marketing, in 2003 trade associations representing beer and distilled spirits companies joined wine marketers in committing to advertise only when the underage audience composition is less than 30 percent. This threshold has been ineffective in reducing youth exposure on television, either in absolute or in relative terms.

Using as the comparison 2004 (the first full calendar year after beer and distilled spirits adopted the 30 percent threshold), data show that by 2009 youth exposure to alcohol advertising on television had grown by a larger percentage than that of young adults ages 21 to 34 or adults ages 21 and above.

Moreover, industry compliance with the 30 percent threshold remained uneven. In 2009, 7.5 percent of all alcohol product ad placements (23,718 ads) and 9 percent of all alcohol product ad placements on cable (16,283 ads) were on programming with underage audiences larger than 30 percent.

CAMY commissioned Virtual Media Resources to analyze nearly 2.7 million product advertisements placed by alcohol companies from 2001 to 2009, purchased at an estimated cost of more than $8 billion. Key findings include:

  • The average annual number of alcohol ads seen by youth watching television increased from 217 in 2001 to 366 in 2009, approximately one alcohol ad per day.
  • In 2009, 13 percent of youth exposure came from advertising placed above the industry’s voluntary 30 percent threshold.
  • Also in 2009, 44 percent of youth exposure came from advertising that overexposed youth (i.e., was more likely to be seen per capita by youth ages 12 to 20 than by adults ages 21 and above) compared to persons of legal purchase age (21 and above).
  • On cable television, the majority of youth exposure came from advertising more likely to be seen by youth per capita than by adults ages 21 and above.
  • From 2004, when the distilled spirits and beer industries joined the wine industry in implementing a 30 percent standard to protect against youth exposure, to 2009, youth exposure to distilled spirits ads on cable television doubled.
  • In 2009, five cable networks were more likely to expose youth per capita to alcohol advertising than adults 21 and above: Comedy Central, BET, E!, FX and Spike. Two of these—Comedy Central and BET—delivered more exposure to youth than to young adults ages 21-34.
  • In 2009, 12 brands (8 percent) generated half of youth overexposure: Miller Lite, Coors Light, Captain Morgan Rums, Bud Light, Samuel Adams Boston Lager, Miller Genuine Draft Light Beer, Crown Royal Whiskey, Corona Extra Beer, Disaronno Originale Amaretto, Smirnoff Vodkas, Miller Chill and Labatt Blue Light Beer.
  • From 2001 to 2009, youth were 22 times more likely to see an alcohol product ad than an alcohol company-sponsored “responsibility” ad whose primary message warned against underage drinking and/or alcohol-impaired driving.


Alcohol is the leading drug problem among youth [1] and is responsible for at least 4,600 deaths per year among persons under 21.[2] In 2009, 10.4 million (27.5 percent) young people in the U.S., ages 12 to 20, reported drinking in the past month, and 6.9 million (18.1 percent) reported binge drinking (defined as five or more drinks at one sitting, usually within two hours).[3] Binge drinkers consume more than 90 percent of the alcohol consumed by this age group.[4]

Every day in the U.S., 4,750 young people under age 16 have their first full drink of alcohol.[5] This is a problem because the earlier young people start drinking, the more likely they are to suffer alcohol-related health and social problems later in life. Compared to those who wait until they are 21 to drink, young people who start drinking before age 15 are four times more likely to become alcohol dependent,[6] seven times more likely to be in a motor vehicle crash because of drinking [7] and 11 times more likely to be in a physical fight after drinking.[8]

Exposure to alcohol advertising and marketing increases the likelihood that young people will start drinking, or that they will drink more if they are already consuming alcohol.[9] A wide range of studies has established the association between exposure to alcohol marketing and youth drinking behavior, even after controlling for a variety of variables such as parental monitoring or socioeconomic status.[10-16]

Alcohol industry spokespeople have stated that they observe a proportional standard when placing their advertising to ensure that young people are not overexposed.[17] Since 2003, industry-wide voluntary codes of good marketing practice have directed that alcohol advertisers avoid programming where underage audiences exceed 30 percent. However, the National Research Council and Institute of Medicine,[18] as well as 20 state attorneys general,[19] have suggested that a 15 percent standard, roughly proportionate to the percentage of the population between the ages of 12 and 20, would be more appropriate. In 2007, one company, Beam Global Spirits & Wine Inc., moved to a 25 percent standard, combined with a 15 percent annual aggregate average by brand and by medium. CAMY has estimated that, if adopted by the entire industry, this standard would reduce youth exposure to alcohol advertising on television by 14 percent and in magazines by more than 10 percent.[20]



  1. Johnston LD, O’Malley PM, Bachman JG, Schulenberg JE. Monitoring the Future National Survey Results on Drug Use, 1975-2009. Volume I: Secondary School Students. Bethesda, MD: National Institute on Drug Abuse; 2010.
  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Alcohol-Related Disease Impact Software. 2009: National Center for Injury Prevention and Control; available at: http://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/ardi.htm. Accessed June 27, 2010.
  3. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). Results from the 2009 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Volume I. Summary of National Findings. 2010; Rockville, MD: Office of Applied Studies; available at: http://oas.samhsa.gov/NSDUH/2k9NSDUH/2k9Results.htm. Accessed October 20, 2010.
  4. Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation. Drinking in America: Myths, Realities, and Prevention Policy. Calverton, MD: prepared in support of the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Enforcing the Underage Drinking Laws Program, U.S. Department of Justice;2005.
  5. Gfroerer J. Re: NSDUH figure. Personal communication (e-mail) to Jernigan D, Washington, D.C. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, September 17, 2007.
  6. Grant BF, Dawson D. Age of onset of alcohol use and its association with DSM-IV alcohol abuse and dependence: Results from the National Longitudinal Alcohol Epidemiologic Survey. Journal of Substance Abuse. 1997;9:103-110.
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  8. Hingson R, Heeren T, Zakocs R. Age of drinking onset and involvement in physical fights. Pediatrics. 2001;108(4):872-877.
  9. Anderson P, De Bruijn A, Angus K, Gordon R, Hastings G. Impact of alcohol advertising and media exposure on adolescent alcohol use: a systematic review of longitudinal studies. Alcohol and Alcoholism. 2009;44(3):229-243.
  10. Collins RL, Ellickson PL, McCaffrey D, Hambarsoomians K. Early adolescent exposure to alcohol advertising and its relationship to underage drinking. Journal of Adolescent Health. Jun 2007;40(6):527-534.
  11. Snyder L, Milici F, Slater M, Sun H, Strizhakova Y. Effects of alcohol exposure on youth drinking. Archives of pediatrics and adolescent medicine. 2006;160(1):18-24.
  12. Stacy AW, Zogg JB, Unger JB, Dent CW. Exposure to televised alcohol ads and subsequent adolescent alcohol use. American Journal of Health Behavior. 2004;28(6):498-509.
  13. Pasch KE, Komro KA, Perry CL, Hearst MO, Farbakhsh K. Outdoor alcohol advertising near schools: what does it advertise and how is it related to intentions and use of alcohol among young adolescents? Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs. 2007;68(4):587-596.
  14. Sargent JD, Wills TA, Stoolmiller M, Gibson J, Gibbons FX. Alcohol use in motion pictures and its relation with early-onset teen drinking. Journal of Studies on Alcohol. 2006;67(1):54-65.
  15. McClure AC, Dal Cin S, Gibson J, Sargent JD. Ownership of alcohol-branded merchandise and initiation of teen drinking. American Journal of Preventive Medicine. 2006;30(4):277-283.
  16. McClure AC, Stoolmiller M, Tanski SE, Worth KA, Sargent JD. Alcohol-branded merchandise and its association with drinking attitudes and outcomes in US adolescents. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. March 1, 2009 2009;163(3):211-217.
  17. Becker J. Statement of Jeff Becker, President, The Beer Institute. U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, Subcommittee on Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services. 108th ed. Washington, D.C.2003.
  18. National Research Council and Institute of Medicine. Reducing Underage Drinking: A Collective Responsibility. Washington, D.C.: National Academies Press; 2004.
  19. Rowe GS, Shurtleff ML, Goddard T, et al. RE: Alcohol Reports, Paperwork Comment, FTC File No. P064505. A Communication from the Chief Legal Officers of the Following States: Arizona, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Rhode Island, Utah, Vermont, Washington, Wyoming [California subsequently signed on]. 2006; available at: http://www.ftc.gov/os/comments/alcoholmanufacadstudy/522852-01287.pdf. Accessed December 6, 2006.
  20. Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth. Statement: Beam Global Sprits & Wine Principles: A Strong Step to Protect Our Kids. 2007; Washington, D.C.: Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth; available at: http://www.camy.org/press/release.php?ReleaseID=39. Accessed 9 September, 2009.


Image Credits:

 Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth