Efforts to cut back on nicotine use in U.S. society have been hugely successful, with rates of smoking falling across the board. Today, tobacco product commercials are banned, and it’s rare to see characters lighting up on television or movie screens.
Yet alcohol advertisements remain a ubiquitous part of American life. Beer commercials are an enduring staple of American sporting events. A recent Super Bowl advertising campaign for Bud Light recruited popular comedians Amy Schumer and Seth Rogen, and Budweiser’s famous commercials have often gone viral, even before the phrase “going viral” was a thing.
This, despite the fact that alcohol is the most widely abused drug in the country. Even though alcohol abuse greatly increases the risk of addiction, heart disease, stroke and other deadly conditions, many of the country’s brightest young college students are essentially functioning alcoholics. Due to the popularity of binge drinking among teens and college students, an estimated 20% of college students meet the medical criteria for Alcohol Use Disorder.
In Australia, some activists are calling for new limits on alcohol advertisements. The Alcohol Advertising Review Board (AARB) wants to ban all alcohol ads on public transportation, and is also calling for “strong, independent, legislated control on all forms of alcohol advertising and promotion in Australia.”
In many U.S. states, there are already local controls on alcohol advertisements, particularly outdoors. In Los Angeles, Clear Channel is in hot water for a tequila billboard that violated a local “code of industry principles” banning outdoor alcohol ads from schools and places of worship.
The alcohol industry spent about $165 million on outdoor advertisements alone in 2013, and there’s no particular momentum behind calls to place further limits on tequila ads.
In fact, despite widespread drinking on college campuses, there are signs Americans are moving towards more permissive alcohol rules. In Pennsylvania, Penn State Athletic Director Sandy Barbour asked his school’s board of trustees to allow some forms of alcohol sales at the school’s athletic events, particularly football games.