It’s safe to say that most, if not all, people agree that youth and children deserve a happy and healthy childhood. In a world where the well-being of our youth is a shared concern, the harsh truth remains: health-harming industries, such as the alcohol industry, frequently target and exploit our children. The time has come for governments to step up and recognize predatory commercial practices for what they are – a violation of the rights of our children.
A Child Rights Issue
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child states that children and youth have the right to grow up in a healthy environment1. Article 17 ensures children the right to access information that promotes their physical and mental well-being, while safeguarding children from harmful information. Further, Article 36 guarantees protection against all forms of exploitation. In short, the convention affirms that children have the right to information favorable to their physical and mental health and healthy environments. But alcohol marketing and the harm it causes is in the way of children fully enjoying this right.
The WHO-UNICEF-Lancet Commission has classified predatory commercial exploitation as an existential threat to children’s health and well-being2. Harmful corporations, such as the alcohol industry, are using insidious algorithms to target kids with marketing promoting addictive and harmful products3. Unethical marketing practices by the alcohol industry are directly targeting and exploiting young people and children with the strategic intent of cultivating lifelong loyal customers – that means alcohol users4. The alcohol industry needs to attract young people to stay profitable, as articulated in a leaked document from the alcohol giant Molson Coors:
If Miller Lite was to be a large profitable brand we had to attract these young heavy drinkers.”Molson Coors, leaked document
The Alcohol Industry Profits, Children Suffer the Consequences
While the alcohol industry makes huge profits, the children, families, and societies suffer the consequences. Alcohol is the second largest risk factor for disease in the age group 10 – 24 years. World-class evidence consistently demonstrates a link between marketing exposure and the level of alcohol consumption among youth5. This means that youth who are exposed to alcohol marketing are more likely to initiate alcohol consumption and engage in heavy episodic alcohol use6. Research shows that people who start consuming alcohol before the age of 15 are at a higher risk for developing alcohol use disorder later in life7. Alcohol marketing also shapes positive attitudes, expectancies and judgements towards alcohol among children, determining brand loyalty for an entire life8.
Impactful Policy Solution to Protect Children
Research has shown again and again that a ban on alcohol marketing is a highly effective alcohol policy solution for preventing and reducing alcohol harm9. Restricting alcohol marketing is one of three the so-called alcohol policy “Best Buys”, meaning policies that have proven impactful and cost effective. Yet there is a vast and persisting gap between implementing evidence-based alcohol policies and political action. Indeed, a study including 151 countries has shown that government action to protect people from alcohol marketing is one of the least well-enacted strategies10.
But taking action and protecting people, especially children and other vulnerable groups, is possible. Countries such as France, Norway and Lithuania are leading the way when it comes to banning alcohol advertising and protecting their populations. More countries should follow suit and prioritize the well-being of their children and youth.
Time For Governments to Step Up
In the effort to safeguard children’s well-being and future, the facts are crystal clear: predatory commercial practices jeopardize youths’ health across the globe. Equally clear are the solutions we possess. Protecting people from alcohol marketing, for example through banning alcohol advertising, promotion, and sponsorship, is cost-effective and high-impact. It’s time for governments to step up and embrace a child rights perspective as they fulfill their duty to protect our future from the clutches of the alcohol industry.
- The WHO-UNICEF-Lancet Commission identifies predatory commercial exploitation as an existential threat to children’s health and well-being.
- Children have a right to grow up in healthy environments, protected from harmful information and any form of exploitation. These rights are enshrined in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.
- Nevertheless, health harming industries, such as the alcohol industry, are targeting children with marketing of harmful and addictive products.
- Alcohol is a major risk factor for disease among young people. Research shows a consistent connection between alcohol marketing exposure and youth alcohol consumption.
- Banning alcohol advertising, promotion, and sponsorship has been proven to be a highly effective policy solution to prevent and reduce alcohol harm.
- Despite the evidence, there is a gap between implementing evidence-based alcohol policies and political action.
- Governments should protect people from marketing of alcohol to ensure that children and youth grow up in healthy environments free from exploitation.
- The United Nations. “Convention on the Rights of the Child,” 1989. https://www.ohchr.org/en/instruments-mechanisms/instruments/convention-rights-child. ↩︎
- Clark H, Coll-Seck AM, and Banerjee A. “A Future for the World’s Children? A WHO–UNICEF–Lancet Commission.” The Lancet 395, no. 10224 (2020). https://doi.org/https://doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(19)32540-1. ↩︎
- “Protecting children from Harmful Practices.” WHO-UNICEF-Lancet Commission, 2020. https://cdn.who.int/media/docs/default-source/a-future-for-children/policy-brief-3—commercial-marketing.pdf?sfvrsn=98d4a30b_2&download=true. ↩︎
- Babor TF, et al. Alcohol: No Ordinary Commodity. Third Edition., 2023. ↩︎
- Saragent JD, and Barbor TF. “The Relationship between Exposure to Alcohol Marketing and underage Drinking Is Causal.” Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs Supplement 19 (2020). ↩︎
- Babor TF, et al. Alcohol: No Ordinary Commodity. Third Edition., 2023; Jernigan D, et al. “Alcohol Marketing and Youth Alcohol Consumption: A Systematic Review of Longitudinal Studies Published since 2008,” Addiction (2017). https://doi.org/10.1111/add.13591; Curtis BL, Lookatch SJ, and Ramo DE. “Meta‐analysis of the Association of Alcohol‐related Social Media Use with Alcohol Consumption and Alcohol‐related Problems in Adolescents and Young Adults.” Alcohol Clin Exp Res 42 (2018). ↩︎
- Babor, TF, et al. Alcohol: No Ordinary Commodity. Third Edition., 2023. ↩︎
- Allen L, Nicholson B, and Yeung B. “Implementation of Non-Communicable Disease Policies: A Geopolitical Analysis of 151 Countries.” Lancet Glob Health, 2020. ↩︎