Alcohol and Tobacco Marketed to Children Via the Web, Says Center for Media Education Report
Alcohol and tobacco companies are using the Internet to market their products, using colorful games and interactive sites that appeal to children, according to a study released on March 6 by the Center for Media Education (CME) as part of its "Action for Children in Cyberspace" project ("Alcohol and Tobacco on the Web: New Threats to Youth," Center for Media Education, March 6, 1997; Seth Schiesel, "On the Web, This Bud's for Your Children," New York Times, March 7, 1997. p. A1; Seth Schiesel, "Kids 'liquored' on Web playground," Denver Post, March 8, 1997, p. 2A).
The study found that major alcohol beverage companies are a growing commercial presence on the Internet, with Web sites established for at least 35 brands. So far, tobacco companies are a lesser presence in cyberspace, but the study said that these companies could be poised to move more aggressively on-line. Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corporation, for instance, recently began running Lucky Strike® print ads to attract visitors to an on-line Web magazine that collects information and offers free T-shirts. Some tobacco companies have launched advertising Web sites in other countries, which are easily accessed in the U.S.
CME located hundreds of Web sites promoting the use of alcohol and tobacco products, some of which use a variety of marketing techniques that are particularly appealing to youth. For example, the Budweiser® (http://www.budweiser.com) on-line radio network, "KBUD," hosted by DJ, BuddyK, intersperses music, interviews with rock stars, and reviews of albums with a steady stream of promotions for the beer. Cuervo Tequila's® (http://www.cuervo.com) "J.C. Roadhog Adventure" features an off-road wild ride with a red "Cyber rodent" who zooms across a desert littered with empty tequila bottles and other Cuervo merchandising icons. Other web sites offer drink recipes, such as the Malibu Rum® (http://www.maliburum.com) site's "Radical Party Recipes" and "Bartenders' Favorite Recipes." In addition, chat rooms are present on most of the Web sites. At Smokey's Cafe (http://tezcat.com/~smokers/wwwboard.html), on the Smoker's Home Page, visitors can view glamorous photos of famous celebrities smoking, chat with other smokers, read pro-smoking articles, and consult lists of cigarette and cigar vendors.
Noting that it will be an essential link to education, health, and commerce in the 21st century, CME says it supports allowing all children to have access to the Internet, but that "it is important to establish effective safeguards against marketing practices that could pose harms to the healthy development of children and adolescents." Nearly 5 million children (ages 2 to 17) used the Internet or an on-line service at home or school in 1996, and nearly 9.1 million college students are regular users of the Internet.
In the report, CME called for congressional hearings, Federal Trade Commission investigations, action by parents and educators to instruct young people about on-line promotion of these products, and enforcement of the Cigarette Act. According to Jeff Chester, CME's Executive Director, the Cigarette Act, which has kept advertising of cigarettes off radio and television since 1971, applies to "any medium of electronic communication subject to the jurisdiction of the Federal Communications Commission" and thus would be applicable to the Internet as well. The ACLU, which is currently fighting the Government's regulation of indecency on the internet, argues that th Internet is not a broadcast medium and is not subject to FCC regulation.
The report also had support from the Center for Science in the Public Interest, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, Latino Council on Alcohol and Tobacco, the American Psychiatric Association, and the National Parent Teachers Association. The report was sponsored by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Carnegie Corporation of New York.
Alcohol companies dismissed the criticism. "We don't think there is anything on the site that has inherent appeal to youth," said John A. Shea, a spokesman for Heublein Inc., which imports and bottles Jose Cuervo® tequilas. Francine I. Katz, vice president for consumer awareness at Anheuser-Busch, said, "The pages attract exactly the visitor we want: male beer drinkers age 21 to 34."
An executive summary of the CME report and related press release are available on-line at http://tap.epn.org/cme/pr970306.html. Contact CME at 1511 K Street, NW, Suite 518, Washington, DC 20005, Tel: (202) 628-2620.