The purpose of this guide is to provide advocates and policymakers with suggestions for effective regulation of alcohol advertising at the state and local levels in the 21st century. In recent years, public health advocates and lawmakers have become reticent to enact or even enforce restrictions on alcohol advertisements in their communities. This hesitancy has stemmed from several court rulings that have invalidated certain restrictions onadvertising on free speech grounds. However, with each ruling, courts have continued to clarify their position regarding the regulation of advertising. As a result, through careful drafting, state and local governments can still restrict alcohol advertising. Moreover, governments can move past the “feel good” and overly narrow legislation of the past and look to crafting restrictions that effectively minimize youth exposure while addressing 21st-century advertising tactics.
The scientific evidence is clear that the more ads kids see, the more likely they are to drink, and drink to excess. As a result, restrictions on alcohol advertising that reduce underage exposure to all alcohol advertisements are more effective than only restricting advertisements that may appeal to kids. Additionally, with new and ever-increasing types of advertising exposing people of all ages, now is the perfect time for new restrictions on alcohol advertising.
While researching current laws on the books in states and cities around the nation, we found that many laws are not written very effectively. For example, restrictions making it illegal to advertise alcohol to children, while important and well intentioned, do little to directly address youth exposure to ads. Similarly, restrictions that are so narrow in scope as to only limit the placement of alcohol advertisements in a single venue have little impact. While such current laws are probably constitutional because they are so narrow, if they are ineffective, they only serve the purpose of feel-good legislation. One of the main goals of this guide is to move beyond such well-intentioned but ultimately limited regulations. The purpose of any restriction on alcohol advertising should be to reduce exposure, especially among youth; if enforced, resulting laws will ultimately reduce underage drinking and other harms from excess alcohol consumption.
Local and state governments can indeed create laws to reduce youth exposure to alcohol advertising on billboards and other out-of-home media. This guide offers policymakers legally-defensible options to protect youth in their communities from messages that can lead to underage drinking. Our youth, families, and communities do not have to be victims of commercial speech.
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