Since we’re located in Boston, we were thrilled to see a study in this month’s American Journal of Public Health about alcohol advertising on Boston’s public transportation system, the MBTA. CMCH asked author Michael Siegel, MD MPH to be a guest blogger and tell us more about what he found. Dr. Siegel is a professor at the Boston University School of Public Health and the author of Marketing Public Health: Strategies to Promote Social Change.
Every day, approximately 9,600 Boston schoolchildren take the T (short for the MBTA – Boston’s public transit system) to and from school. What their parents may not realize is that while en route, these kids are bombarded with alcohol advertising, thanks to the state of Massachusetts’ willingness to allow its property to be used for the marketing of alcohol to youths. Our study, which I co-authored with three students at the Boston University School of Public Health, revealed that through the MBTA subway trains, alcohol companies are able to achieve, in a single day, the same amount of advertising exposure among Boston youths as if they took out 5.5 Super Bowl commercials.
We studied the extent of alcohol advertising on the T by surveying four consecutive trains on each of the four subway lines on two separate occasions, one month apart. We found that on average:
- each subway car contains two advertisements
- these ads result in 18,000 alcohol ad exposures among Boston schoolchildren ages 11-18 each day
- on a typical day, alcohol companies are able to achieve the equivalent of exposing 54% of Boston youths to alcohol advertising, all thanks to the state’s willingness to allow its property to be used for alcohol marketing purposes.
These ads are clearly designed to appeal to youths and to entice them to use alcohol before they reach the legal age of alcohol purchase, which is 21. For example, one advertisement we found on the T showed a college student arriving to move in to his dorm. The two essential items depicted for move-in day were his furniture and a larger-than-life bottle of Absolut vodka.
A large body of evidence demonstrates that these alcohol ads not only appeal to kids, but they also influence adolescents’ decisions to start drinking. In other words, by allowing alcohol ads on the MBTA, the state is allowing its property to be used for the recruitment of new youth drinkers.
Massachusetts state representative Martin Walsh has introduced legislation that would eliminate alcohol advertising on state property. The bill (H-1113) is currently being considered by the Joint Committee on State Administration and Regulatory Oversight.
In the mean time, the state continues to allow the promotion of underage drinking on state property through the daily bombardment of youths by alcohol advertisements on the MBTA subway system.