How Tobacco & Alcohol Companies Advertise to Your Children

You may have heard that tobacco and alcohol advertising is banned on youth oriented programming and in kids magazines, so you think your kids are safe from their influence, but you would be wrong.

While you won't find ads on Sponge Bob or in Highlights Magazine, the tobacco and alcohol companies didn't have to try very hard to find ways around this. A 2001 survey found that the average teen saw 250 ads for alcohol on TV, and 30% saw upwards of 800 ads. Companies know that kids and teens watch programs that are not specifically marketed for children. A recent survey found ads for alcohol on 13 of the 15 most popular shows with teens. This goes for product placement in movies too, like when Super Man is thrown into a Marlboro delivery truck, or there is an ad for Cutty Sark scotch on the brick wall behind the villain. Some people say, well that's okay in movies for adults. Okay - of 145 popular movies reviewed in 2008, 79% of the R rated movies had product placement for tobacco or alcohol, compared to 82% of the PG-13 movies. Movies most of our children over the age of 10 watch.

Magazine advertising has a similar story. Alcohol and tobacco companies know that plenty of teens read magazines such as Sports Illustrated, Cosmopolitan, and even Time. (Many hundreds of schools use it as part of their social science curriculum). These magazines, while not specifically written for teens are nonetheless read by them in large numbers, and the tobacco and alcohol companies know this too. In 2008 the alcohol industry spent 4 Billion - with a B, dollars on advertising. And most of this is marketed to teens. More money is spent advertising alcohol than for soda, potato chips, juice drinks, and sneakers - combined.

One half of all alcohol is sold to those addicted to it or to teens under 18. In fact, JAMA -the Journal of the American Medical Association, found that people under 21 consume 19.7% of all alcohol. Remember, the legal drinking age in the US is 21.

Why is this demographic so important to the alcohol and tobacco industries? Teens have had less experience in judging advertising critically. Most young people have yet to pick a brand. Studies have found that 47-88% of all cigarette advertising is for the three most popular brands with teenagers. That's right, teenagers, not adults. Advertisers have found that there is little point in advertising to existing customers, they've picked the brand they like are not likely to be swayed. That's why you will find little advertising, if any, for alcohol and tobacco in magazines such as Fine Woodworking, or Good House Keeping, publications that teens don't tend to read. If teens aren't reading it, the tobacco and alcohol advertisers have found there is little profit in advertising in it. So yes, they are advertising to your children, clear and simple.

What can you do? Obviously you can't shelter your underage children from all forms of advertising, but what you can do is talk to your children about viewing these ads critically. You can start with young kids, after all, why do companies put toys in cereal boxes or Happy Meals? I have had many conversations in the cereal aisle explaining that we don't buy cereal for the toys, we buy it to eat, and we need to start our day off with good food.

Point out to teens the images that the alcohol and tobacco companies use and discuss why. Let them come up with answers. This begins to lead them down the path to critical thinking. While it won't completely stop them from being influenced by advertising, they will begin to approach ads with a more cautious eye. Seat belts don't stop accidents from happening, but they protect you from worse harm when you get in an accident. The same is true for teaching our children to view ads critically. If they know the tobacco and alcohol companies are trying to manipulate them - and what teen wants adults to manipulate them - they will have some protection when they are "hit" with an ad.

The numbers in this article came from an excellent video put out by Human Relations Media called: Targeted: How Tobacco and Alcohol Companies Try to Get You Hooked. You can watch a short preview