In the Doghouse

Chicago Transit Authority Sells Out Public Health for Alcohol Ads

March 20, 2012
CTAIn an attempt at a budget band-aid, the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) recently voted to ditch its 15-year ban on alcohol advertising on rail cars and stations. The CTA has agreed to allow up to 30 ‘L’ cars to be outfitted with alcohol-related ads at any given time. Ads will also be placed in various rail stations. In return, the CTAprojects it will get $3.2 million in revenue from Big Alcohol--to close a $277 million shortfall in its budget.

Outdoor advertising exposes youth to a deluge of alcohol ads on a repeated basis. In particular, ads on public transit are a favorite of the alcohol industry because of their broad public exposure. Restrictions on alcohol advertising are necessary to reduce youth exposure. And the research is clear: the more alcohol ads young people see, the younger they start drinking, the more likely they are to drink, and the more those young drinkers consume. 

CTA President Forrest Claypool tried to justify the move, calling their decision "responsible" because the ads won’t be posted in rail stations close to schools, must declare the legal drinking age in Illinois, and must warn about the potential dangers of alcohol consumption. Sounds like the CTA has no problems putting alcohol ads in the neighborhoods where kids get on the rail cars to go to school, after-school care, or work. There is nothing responsible about increasing youth exposure to alcohol ads. Warning labels about legal drinking age or potential dangers are not an evidence-based policy to reduce consumption and related harm. Labels also won't block the messages the industry intends its ads to send: Buy--and drink--this alcohol product.  

In addition, the CTA's decision to ditch its longstanding commitment to public health for alcohol ads is shortsighted. The expected $3 million in revenue is a measly drop in the bucket (less than 1%) of the CTA’s$1.24 billion operating budget for 2012. That, plus the increased costs to Chicago residents due to increases in alcohol consumption and related harm, will far outweigh any temporary budget relief the CTA may seek to gain.

Chicago’s young people deserve to ride to school, work, and social activities without being blanketed in promotional messages from alcohol corporations. The CTA should keep its 15-year ban on alcohol ads, and find another way to close its budget gap--one that won't endanger Chicago’s youth.