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Mixing hoops and beer endangers youth


12:00 P.M. EST March 18, 2010

A UMNS photo 
illustration by Mike DuBose.
A UMNS photo illustration by Mike DuBose. View in Photo Gallery

Coming to a TV screen near you – hours and hours of college basketball washed down with millions of dollars in beer commercials.

March Madness and a cold one – it is no accident the two seem to go together.

Despite more than 1,700 alcohol-related collegiate deaths a year, the NCAA refuses to eliminate beer ads – the one drink most consumed and abused by college age students, said George A. Hacker, director of the Campaign for Alcohol-Free Sports TV.

“People should be aware of the way in which NCAA and beer producers exploit a youthful, healthful, action-packed activity to sell beer and to promote beer to an audience that includes a large number of impressionable young people,” Hacker said.

Lifelong customers

As the NCAA men’s basketball tournament kicks off today, United Methodist leaders are among those offering warnings about the unhealthy association of athletics and a barrage of beer ads.

“The alcohol industry relies on advertising at college-level sports to encourage young people to become lifelong customers, some who become alcoholics.”
–The Rev. Cynthia Abrams

“The alcohol industry relies on advertising at college-level sports to encourage young people to become lifelong customers, some who become alcoholics,” said the Rev. Cynthia Abrams, director at the United Methodist Board of Church and Society.

The United Methodist agency sponsors the Campaign for Alcohol-Free Sports TV through their alcohol prevention coalition to highlight the consequences of alcohol advertising on young people, Abrams said.

“The United Methodist Church has been an ally for more than 20 years,” Hacker said.

Marketing beer and fun

Alcohol companies spend an estimated $4 billion per year marketing their products. Some of the top beer advertisers are Corona, Miller, Budweiser and Coors.

On Miller’s Web site are contests for “taste tip-off trivia” marketed to college hoop fans who will be watching March Madness. Inside specially marked packages is a chance to win hundreds of “great prizes.”

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The Corona Web site features photos of happy young people and the message: “There are some moments when only a Corona will do.”

“From the beginning, Corona has been about connections - people coming together, strangers becoming friends, and old friends becoming even closer,” the site claims. “Because Corona is more than just a beer. It represents a philosophy of living in the moment that has been embraced around the world.”

Who wouldn’t want to be part of that party?

Overwhelming pressure

Young people hardly have a chance to grow up without pressure to drink, said David H. Jernigan, director of the Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth with Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

“In our current atmosphere, they don’t have that chance, thanks in no small part to the enormous amount of alcohol advertising they see,” Jernigan said. “For instance, the average television-watching young person between the ages of 12 and 20 sees more than 300 advertisements for alcohol per year on television alone. Parents and teachers cannot keep up with this heavy and sophisticated media exposure.”

Young people exposed to alcohol marketing are more likely to initiate drinking or drink more, Jernigan said.

“Delaying onset of drinking is an important public health goal, since the earlier young people start drinking, the more likely they are to have alcohol problems later in life. For instance, according to the surgeon general, young people who start drinking before age 15 are five times more likely to suffer from an alcohol problem as those who wait until they are 21.”

Destructive results

Three teens who had 
been drinking died in this accident. A UMNS photo courtesy of CDC/ 
Gwinnett County Police Department.
Three teens who had been drinking died in this accident. A UMNS photo courtesy of CDC/ Gwinnett County Police Department.

The “well-funded” alcohol industry has been successful in making sure their products are subject to as little oversight as possible, Abrams said. “A distressing result has been that underage and binge drinking are significant problems because the alcohol industry has been so successful in its advertising and marketing campaigns.”

The United Methodist Board of Church and Society advocates increasing alcohol taxes to help fund health care reform.

The United Methodist agency, Jernigan and Hacker were among those who signed a letter sent to members of Congress in 2009 urging a federal excise tax increase on alcoholic beverages.

Low prices have made alcohol more affordable for underage persons and fueled excessive drinking, the letter said.

Pledging to stop

Alcohol advertising during sports events happens because college presidents allow it to happen, Hacker said.

Through the efforts of this campaign, 372 schools and 16 conferences have signed a pledge to eliminate alcohol ads from college sports, Abrams said.

Hacker thinks the campaign might be making progress.

“There has been a significant reduction in the number and proportion of advertising during the tournament.”

*Gilbert is a news writer for United Methodist News Service in Nashville, Tenn.

News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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