Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth
The Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth (CAMY) is a Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health-affiliated research organization that focuses on the marketing practices of the alcohol industry and tries to link alcohol advertising to underage drinking and alcohol abuse. The group claims that “high rates of underage alcohol consumption and the suffering caused by alcohol-related injuries and deaths among young people requires using the public health strategies of limiting the access to and the appeal of alcohol to underage persons.”
CAMY was originally established at Georgetown University in 2002 and was founded with a $5 million grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Pew Trusts to provide anti-alcohol activists with research-based evidence that alcohol companies were targeting young people with advertisements.
In response to the group’s launch, a Wall Street Journal article announced that “a new anti-alcohol watchdog group” has launched a crusade “to limit the placement of beer and other alcohol commercials on television airwaves.”
CAMY has published a number of studies arguing that alcohol advertising specifically targets underage youth. While these results are often cited by CAMY and other anti-alcohol organizations as reasons to crack down on the alcohol industry with new restrictions, CAMY’s studies are not subject to the usual peer-review process. Meanwhile, similar studies of alcohol industry marketing practices by the federal government haven’t found any evidence of CAMY’s claims. A report by the Federal Trade Commission to Congress stated that there is no evidence that alcohol advertisements target underage drinkers. Even the Director of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism has pointed out that “There is not a single study — not one study in the United States or internationally — that credibly connects advertising with an increase in alcohol use or abuse.”
A closer examination of CAMY’s studies reveals several key flaws. For instance, a 2006 study by CAMY and the Center for Science in the Public Interest published in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine concluded that the more alcohol advertisements an individual saw, the more alcoholic beverages they consumed. However, CSPI and CAMY conducted the study using data collected before the spirits industry implemented a self-prescribed standard that alcohol advertisements can only be shown when less than 30% of viewers are underage (a proportion roughly equal to the share of the US population that is younger than 21 years of age). As a result of this key problem, the journal published a critique of CSPI and CAMY’s flawed work a few months after the initial article ran. Despite criticism, CAMY continued to cite the study’s findings to call for further restrictions on alcohol advertisements.
Another study by CAMY examined alcohol advertisements in magazines and other publications and found that 56 percent of those ads from 2001 to 2003 ran in publications with a “disproportionate readership” among youth aged 12-20. CAMY’s conclusions rely on the belief that if a publication has a higher share of young readers in relation to the rest of the population, the alcohol industry is targeting underage drinkers by running advertisements in those publications. It does not mention that the industry specifically avoids publications that count underage youths as their primary readership base.
As the International Center for Alcohol Policies notes, “The balance of the evidence does not support a direct causal relationship between overall alcohol marketing and drinking levels or harmful drinking patterns.”
Statistics also poke holes in CAMY’s argument that alcohol advertising causes increased rates of underage drinking. National rates of underage drinking have been on the decline since 2002, despite a fluctuating amount of advertising dollars spent by the alcohol industry on U.S. alcohol advertisements.