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Exposing kids to booze: 26,000 ads a year

Would you support a change that would instantly halve children’s exposure to televised alcohol ads?

New research has found that by simply changing a couple of regulations so that alcohol advertising was not allowed during sport broadcasts, and not before 9.30pm, it would halve young people’s exposure.

Did you know that many children as young as 4 years old know which alcohol brand is associated with particular sports in Australia? Have you ever wondered why you see so much alcohol advertising on TV during the day, when Australian regulations clearly state that alcohol advertising must not be shown during children’s peak viewing times?

It seems it has a lot to do with a free pass given to the alcohol industry. This inexplicably allows them to broadcast ads for booze during the day as long as it’s during a sports broadcast.

Monash University Associate Professor Kerry O’Brien and colleagues have just published new research which takes a thorough look into television alcohol advertising and sport. They set out to document just how much alcohol advertising is on Australian TV during sports broadcasts and during non-sport programs.

O’Brien’s study reported a total of 25,792 alcohol ads was shown on commercial free-to-air TV in 2012 – an average of 71 per day. They found that most alcohol advertisements were broadcast in the ‘adult hours’ between 8.30pm-midnight, but that of the ads that were shown during children’s viewing hours, nearly 90% of them were shown during televised sport. The vast majority of the ads were for beer, followed distantly by spirits, cider and then wine.

According to the Commercial TV Code of Practice, alcohol advertising is not allowed during ‘C’ rated viewing hours, from 6.00am until 8.30pm, when children can be expected to view television. Nevertheless, alcohol advertising is broadcast during the ‘C’ hours because of an exemption given to alcohol advertisers during live sports broadcasts. If sport is being shown on TV, alcohol ads are allowed to be shown, even during the day when kids and families are very likely to be watching the sport.

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The reason this exemption was granted is unclear and unexplained, but what is clear is that it’s very counterproductive to the Code’s intent of protecting young people from exposure to alcohol advertising.

The researchers also set themselves the task of finding out the age ranges of the children watching alcohol ads on TV. When the authors analysed the ‘youth’ (0-29 years) television audience during the ‘daytime’ slot they found just as many children aged 5-13 were watching (22%) as people aged 18-29 years (22%) and there was a bigger proportion of children aged 0-4 years in the audience (40%). The other 16% of the youth audience was the group aged 14-17 years.

This research proves that alcohol advertising is doing a great job of teaching children about alcohol brands, even before they’re school-aged. The alcohol industry knows that advertising within sports programming is effective (and great for sales) because it appeals to young people, who then develop more positive beliefs about alcohol.

If we’re serious about creating a healthier drinking culture and stemming the vast harms created by risky drinking, we need to protect our children from being blatantly marketed to by booze brands.

FreeTV are currently attempting to change the end of children’s viewing hours from 8.30pm to 7.30pm, meaning more children would be exposed to more alcohol advertising, not less. This is the exact opposite of what we should be doing.

If you’re as horrified about this proposal as we are, we encourage you to make your views known to the Australian Communications and Media Authority.