US News & World Report
The American Academy of Pediatrics doesn't want children exposed to tobacco ads at all, and wants to limit their exposure to alcohol marketing and advertisements for erectile dysfunction drugs and other prescription medications.
Those are just a few of the recommendations in its new policy statement, "Children, Adolescents, Substance Abuse, and the Media," published in the October issue of Pediatrics.
"Although parents, schools and the federal government are trying to get children and teenagers to 'just say no' to drugs, more than $25 billion worth of cigarette, alcohol and prescription drug advertising is effectively working to get them to 'just say yes' to smoking, drinking and other drugs," wrote the policy's authors.
Every year, more than 400,000 people in the United States die from smoking-related illness, according to the policy statement. And, more than 100,000 deaths can be attributed to excessive alcohol consumption.
The AAP is targeting advertising because it works. Advertising may be responsible for as much as 30 percent of alcohol and tobacco use, the authors say. When Camel cigarettes started an ad campaign using a cartoon camel as its mascot, its market share went from 0.5 percent of teen smokers to 32 percent. And, exposure to tobacco marketing more than doubles the risk of a teenager starting to smoke, the paper states.
Alcohol ads are getting through to younger kids, too. A study of 9- and 10-year-olds found that as many kids who could identify Bugs Bunny could also identify the Budweiser frogs. In another study, 75 percent of fourth-graders could identify a ferret used in a Budweiser advertisement.
The AAP would like to see a ban on all tobacco ads and an end to smoking in movies. If characters are smoking, they shouldn't be glamorized, the statement advises.
Some other highlights of the statement include:
* Limit advertising and product placement for alcohol in venues where more than 10 percent of the audience are children. Alcohol use in teens shouldn't be portrayed as normal in movies or TV shows, and no one should be shown as being "funny-drunk."
* The White House Office on Drug Control Policy should conduct anti-smoking and anti-teen-drinking public service campaigns.
* Drug companies, public health groups and the medical communities should have an open debate on the necessity of advertising prescription drugs.
* Ads for erectile dysfunction drugs should only be shown after 10 p.m., and they shouldn't be overly suggestive.
* Schools should try to incorporate media education into their curricula.
* Parents should limit unsupervised media use.
"Alcohol remains the greatest public health problem, and it remains the most lethal drug for young people. Parents need to understand this, and protect their children," said Dr. John R. Knight, director of the Center for Adolescent Substance Abuse Research at Children's Hospital of Boston. "Advertising glamorizes alcohol and really primes our kids to think they can't have fun unless there's booze."
Knight said prescription drug ads contribute to the idea that these drugs are safe for anyone to take and lead to greater prescription drug abuse in teens.
Of the new policy statement, Knight said he's "proud of the AAP" for taking a stand.
Lori Evans, a psychologist at the New York University Child Study Center, agreed that the AAP recommendations are important. "We know the impact of advertising. That's why advertisers spend money on it. For kids, the images are so vivid and clear that it's a good thing to limit access."
But, she added, "No matter how much we limit access, we still have to watch with our children because we need to know what they're seeing and hearing." For example, she said, if you're watching a football game with your children, you'll likely see beer ads. She suggested that parents point out that beer isn't necessary to have a good time.
Knight's approach is a bit more radical. "I love the Super Bowl and I think they have the greatest ads, but I would not encourage my kids to watch that game. I don't want them exposed to it. Parents have the ultimate power and can vote with their feet by not watching."
If you just can't give up watching the big game, Knight suggests using technology to your advantage: Record the game, so you can fast-forward through the commercials.