The pandemic has changed the lives of the world’s children and young people perhaps forever. One of the changes is that children live online now more than ever. Consequently, the lines between educational and recreational screen time have become blurred. Today’s children grow up in a digital world.
With the pandemic the reliance on digital technology increased even more. And there are many benefits to this technology. Children can keep learning without falling behind, stay connected with friends and find recreational activity digitally. Even certain online games, such as Minecraft, have been shown to provide rich educational and social benefits. Clearly, digital technology provides opportunities for rich social engagement and spaces for problem solving and experiential learning.
However, the increased use of digital media means the alcohol industry can find even easier and more invasive ways to target and expose children to alcohol marketing. The alcohol industry is investing aggressively in the deployment of ever more online strategies to capture children and young people as customers.
The alcohol industry exploited the pandemic to heavily market alcohol, specifically online such as through social media platforms.
- A report by the NCD Alliance and the SPECTRUM Research Consortium exposed how Big Alcohol along with other unhealthy industries turns COVID-19 into the world’s largest marketing campaign.
- A research by the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education (FARE) and the Cancer Council WA uncovered that Australians saw an alcohol advertisement every 35 seconds on Facebook and Instagram.
- A study by Cancer Council WA found that 28% of Instagram and 5% of Facebook accounts of major alcohol companies and brands did not have age-restriction controls activated, thereby, exposing children to harm.
Alcohol marketing harms children and youth
Exposure to alcohol marketing directly affects the alcohol consumption behaviour of children and young people. A growing body of scientific findings illustrates 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.
Alcohol use has seriously harmful effects on children and youth. Since the human brain develops until the age of 25, alcohol is a risk on the healthy cognitive and intellectual development of children and young people.
The negative effects of early alcohol initiation is well supported by science. The following studies are just a few of the available science.
- Kids who began consuming alcohol before the age of 15 were 5.6 times more likely to report having alcohol use disorder in the past year as adults.
- The earlier alcohol initiation is, the more likely children and adolescents will engage in behaviors that harm themselves and others.
- According to U.S. data, compared to those who begin alcohol use at the legal age of 21 years, young people who start alcohol use at the age 15 are 12 times more likely to suffer unintentional injuries, 7 times more likely to be in a motor vehicle crash, and 10 times more likely to have been in a physical fight, due to alcohol.
Big Alcohol profits at the cost of children’s health and well-being
Why does the alcohol industry cause children and young people such harm? The answer is simple: profit maximization.
The alcohol industry’s business depends on recruiting more people to use alcohol in the future. To do this, they target children when they are young and impressionable to create positive attitudes, expectations, and myths about alcohol and perpetuate the alcohol norm. Since children are still developing they are more susceptible to creating attitudes and behaviors based on marketing.
The alcohol industry needs under-age alcohol use for a significant part of their profits. They also need to market their brands to children to maintain and increase alcohol use of young ‘loyal’ consumers, as they enter adult life,” said Maik Dünnbier, Director of Strategy and Advocacy at Movendi International, in a recent opinion piece.Maik Dünnbier, Director of Strategy and Advocacy, Movendi International
Certainly, putting children in harm’s way is profitable for the alcohol industry. A recent study published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs showed that the alcohol industry made a total sales revenue of $17.5 billion from minors consuming alcohol in 2016. This is 7.4% out of $237.1 billion revenue of the industry in that year.
What must be done to protect children?
The new World Health Organization (WHO) – UNICEF – The Lancet Commission on child health call out “predatory commercial exploitation” as an existential threat. The Commission provides several solutions, including alcohol policy, to promote child health and development.
- Commercial governance is essential to protect children from alcohol, tobacco and other health harmful industries. Voluntary codes by the alcohol industry have failed to protect children.
- The Commission proposes adding an Optional Protocol to the CRC regarding commercial marketing and targeting of children which would,
- require national governments to prohibit or regulate the types of products that should not be marketed to or for children (including sugary beverages, unhealthy foods, alcohol, tobacco, e-cigarettes, gambling products, and breastmilk substitutes);
- regulate specific methods of marketing to children (via television shows, games, and social media used by children and youth, and sponsorship of youth activities); and
- control the gathering and exploitation of children’s data and images for commercial purposes.
- Implementing health promotion taxation, including alcohol tax.
- Investing in children’s health and education.