Ads for beer, spirits and 'alcopop' are frequently aired when more teens were watching television, reveals a new US study.
This is the first study to demonstrate an association between ad placement and teen cable TV viewership.
"Alcohol advertisers have pledged to avoid audiences made up of more than 30 percent underage viewers - such as children's programming," said David H. Jernigan, director of the Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth and an associate professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
"However, many other shows have adolescent appeal. This research suggests that ads are aimed at groups that include a disproportionate number of teens and that the alcohol industry's voluntary self-monitoring is not working to reduce adolescent exposure to ads," he added.
The study showed that audiences with a higher percentage of youth between the ages of 12 and 20 were exposed to a higher frequency of alcohol ads, even after accounting for other factors that might explain ad placement decisions.
Each 1-percentage-point increase in adolescent viewership was associated with a 7-percent increase in beer ads, a 15-percent increase in spirits ads and a 22-percent increase in ads for low-alcohol refreshers/alcopops - flavored alcoholic beverages that taste similar to juice or soda.
However, wine ads decreased by 8 percent with each 1-percentage-point increase in adolescent viewership.
This finding suggests that alcohol advertisers can, in fact, successfully avoid adolescent audiences.
"This study did not examine whether alcohol advertisers are intentionally overexposing adolescents," said lead study author Dr. Paul J. Chung, assistant professor of pediatrics at Mattel Children's Hospital UCLA and a senior natural scientist at the RAND Corp.
"The alcohol industry has consistently denied actively targeting teens, and our study isn't designed to test that claim. However, the ultimate effect of their advertising strategies, intentional or not, appears to be greater exposure than might be expected if adults were the sole targets of ads," he added.
The study appears online in American Journal of Public Health.