A new study has found that despite what Big Alcohol says about their commitment to reducing underage alcohol use, the industry has made $17.5 billion in sales revenue (in 2016) from alcohol sales to minors in the United States (U.S.).

In 2016, the alcohol industry earned $17.5 billion or 8.6% of their sales revenue from alcohol sold to under-age adolescents in the United States. Three major alcohol companies AB Inbev, Molson Coors (then MillerCoors) and Diageo have made almost half (45%) of these profits.

  • AB InBev is responsible for 21% – amounting to $2.2 billion of these sales;
  • Molson Coors – which was called MillerCoors until 2019 – is responsible for 12.3% of the under-age market share amounting to  $1.1 billion in sales revenue; and
  • Diageo accounted for 11.1% of the alcohol market share for minors, taking in an estimated $2 billion in sales revenue.
$17.5 Billion
Big Alcohol earns big money from children’s alcohol consumption
In 2016, the alcohol industry earned $17.5 billion or 8.6% of their sales revenue from alcohol consumption by under-age children.

The alcohol industry has said they don’t want minors to [consume alcohol], but when we counted up the [alcoholic beverages], it was clear that they were making billions of dollars from these sales,” said Dr. Pamela Trangenstein, lead study author and assistant professor of health behavior at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health, as per UNC Gillings School News.

There is a clear disconnect when an industry advocates prevention, but then makes billions from prevention’s failure.”  

Dr. Pamela Trangenstein, lead study author, assistant professor of health behavior, UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health

In this study, the researchers used national survey data to determine under-age alcohol use level and types. Then they used the Impact Databank to determine the total number of alcoholic beverages sold. After adjusting for underreporting, the researchers applied the percentage of under-age alcohol use to the alcohol sales data by beverage type and assigned a beverage-specific cost.

Big Alcohol’s fundamental conflict of interest

The data exposing how much the alcohol industry relies on under-age alcohol consumption for substantial profits illustrates the fundamental conflict of interest in the alcohol industry.

Increased alcohol consumption leads to increased negative health and development impacts – especially among children, adolescents, and youth – but also to increased sales for the alcohol industry: thus public health and development interests are placed in an inherent and direct conflict with corporate interests of profit maximization.

Kristina Sperkova, Internnational President of Movendi International, comments on the new findings:

The figures in this new study are jaw-dropping. Big Alcohol makes more than $17 billion from exploiting children as alcohol users.

This exposes the greed of the alcohol industry.

The health and well-being of our children is the most precious consideration for all of us. But Big Alcohol puts our children in harm’s way to maximize their private profits.

Kristina Sperkova

In 2018, United Nations member states adopted the Political declaration of the third high-level meeting of the General Assembly on the prevention and control of non-communicable diseases. In it, the private sector was invited to strengthen its commitment to the prevention of NCDs. Evenn the alcohol industry was invited to: “Taking concrete steps, where relevant, towards eliminating the marketing, advertising and sale of alcoholic products to minors;”

Big Alcohol is not serious about eliminating alcohol marketing and alcohol sales to minors. In fact, we see that the alcohol industry has a major conflict of interest in these areas. Children’s alcohol use contributes to substantial profits,” says Ms Sperkova.

All calls on the alcohol industry’s social responsibility are in vain. The evidence and track record is clear: we need action by law makers and political leaders to protect our children from Big Alcohol.”

Kristina Sperkova, International President, Movendi International

Under-age alcohol use is a major problem for the U.S.

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), 7 million 12- to 20-year-olds report alcohol use in the past month, while 4.2 million reported binge alcohol use.

While this study does show a decrease in under-age alcohol use from 2011 (11.7%) to 2016 (8.6%), it remains a major public health problem.

Despite the age limit for purchasing alcohol, one study shows that under-age youth can easily purchase alcohol through off-premise outlets, such as grocery and convenience stores, about 30% of the time.

Additionally, most under-age youth obtain alcohol from older adults in their household. This is specifically harmful since it strengthens the pervasive alcohol norm which can lead to heavier alcohol use later in life.

Marketing by the alcohol industry is a major driver of under-age alcohol use. A growing body of scientific findings illustrate that alcohol marketing is related to youth alcohol consumption, earlier initiation to alcohol use and high-risk alcohol use. With social media and internet becoming increasingly popular, digital alcohol marketing has been linked to increased alcohol use. Digital media alcohol marketing such as on social media and other internet platforms is harder to regulate. Most current alcohol regulations are too outdated to manage under-age alcohol marketing exposure on digital media.

Solutions are at hand, but need political will for implementation

The consequences of under-age youth being driven to alcohol are dire. According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, alcohol causes more than 3,500 deaths and 210,000 years of potential life lost among people under age of 21.

Molson Coors, AB InBev and Diageo all cite their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiatives against under-age alcohol use when questioned by CNN about the study results.

However, it has already been proven that Big Alcohol’s CSR initiatives,

  1. Do not help to reduce alcohol use,
  2. Are not independent of the alcohol industry, and
  3. The alcohol industry exploits public health initiatives through their CSR for their own gains – such as by framing issues in an alcohol industry favorable manner to guide policies, to delay and offset alcohol control legislation, and for indirect brand marketing.

It is not in the industry’s interest to [reduce] underage use in any way; that is where their future profits lay,” said Paul Gruenewald, scientific director of the Prevention Research Center of the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation, as per CNN.

Demand is insured by getting youth to start [consuming alcohol] as early in their lives as possible, providing constant demand throughout the life course.”

Paul Gruenewald, scientific director, Prevention Research Center, Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation

Strengthening prevention education and alcohol policy solutions is the most promising path towards reducing under-age alcohol use. Lead author of the study, Dr. Pamela Trangenstein points out the World Health Organization (WHO)’s SAFER initiative as encompassing well-researched, cost-effective methods with long-term, effective results.

The SAFER Initiative has steps to effectively manage all the discussed problems and reasons for under-age alcohol use.

  • S – Strengthen restrictions on alcohol availability.
  • A – Advance and enforce drink driving counter measures.
  • F – Facilitate access to screening, brief interventions and treatment.
  • E – Enforce bans or comprehensive restrictions on alcohol advertising, sponsorship, and promotion.
  • R – Raise prices on alcohol through excise taxes and pricing policies.

Another solution put forth by the Institute of Medicine and National Research Council, the science advisory body for the U.S. Congress, in their 2003 report on under-age alcohol use was, to collect from the alcohol industry .05 percent of revenues made from underage alcohol use and utilize those funds for independent prevention efforts.

In 2006, Congress passed unanimously the first legislation devoted to reducing underage alcohol use. That legislation authorized $18 million in spending, but Congress has never spent the full amount.

Currently, alcohol policy solutions in the U.S. are too weak and in certain instances have been further weakened. For example,  in December 2019, the United States Congress extended the major tax break for the alcohol industry. This decision is contradictory to WHO recommendations on evidence-based alcohol policy making.

The alcohol industry has been swift and aggressive in pushing for the weakening of alcohol laws during the raging pandemic, leading to substantial deregulation of state alcohol laws, and thus weakening of protections for young people from alcohol harms.

Solutions for the under-age alcohol problem in the U.S. are at hand. And urgent federal action is needed to save young American’s lives.


UNC Gillings School News: “Study reveals $17.5 billion business of underage drinking

CNN: “Alcohol beverage companies made an estimated $17.5 billion on underage drinking in 2016, study says

EurekAlert: “Alcohol companies earned billions from underage drinking in 2016