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Livingston Families

Alcohol, Tobacco, and Media

07/03/2012 16:55 ● By Rick McGarry

By Daydra Fraley, Livingston County Community Alliance

Media literacy is the ability to sift through and analyze the messages that are on television, radio, and in magazines. These messages inform, entertain and sell their ideas and brands to us every day. Being media literate allows us to understand who is trying to influence us and why. Some obvious examples of media messages are commercials and billboard/magazine ads, while another more subconscious example is product placement. Product placement appears in movies and TV, for example, in the movie ET the alien eats Reese’s Pieces or in the movie You’ve Got Mail the characters revolve around their email on America Online. Demand for these products skyrocketed after these movies were released, but you probably don’t remember why you started craving Reece’s Pieces or why your interest in AOL peaked.

Recently, I’ve had the opportunity to work at a few middle schools in Livingston County, teaching kids how to be media literate. The specific focuses of these groups were to teach students how to understand alcohol and tobacco ads. On my first day teaching a group I asked students to raise their hand if they had ever seen an alcohol ad on TV. Every student raised their hand, and what was worse was that they knew almost every word of the ad.

Alcohol and tobacco advertising is so prevalent that we as adults are unaware of how often they are portrayed in the media. According to the Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth, the typical American child will see 100,000 beer commercials before they turn 18 (that is more than for shoes, jeans, or gum) And more than 55% of the $990 million spent on alcohol advertising in magazines between 2001 and 2003 went to ad placements in magazines that were more likely to be read by underage youth than by adults on a per capita basis.

Next time you are watching a TV show with your kids try counting the references or times that you see someone drinking alcohol or smoking, you may be surprised. That’s exactly what the alcohol and tobacco companies want, they want us to think that these things are just part of a cool and everyday lifestyle. People who drink alcohol on TV or in magazine ads are thin and attractive. The truth is that alcohol is loaded with calories, which can make people obese if they drink too much, thus the term “beer belly”
These are things that adults know and understand, but children do not. When they see that beautiful people are smoking cigarettes in a magazine ad, it puts an idea in their head, that smoking is glamorous and seemingly without consequences. My personal favorite commercial is the one that depicts a women jogging, she is sweating and when she is finished she reaches for a beer, not usually the first thing on my mind after I’m done jogging.

Children, especially teens, want to be liked and accepted, so they are more likely to engage in risky behavior, which makes them particularly vulnerable to trying alcohol or tobacco. Alcohol is the number one drug of choice among children and adolescents.

Teach your kids to be wise consumers. Explain to them the real consequences of drinking or smoking. Use everyday moments such as watching TV or going to a game to point out how companies are trying to entice them to use their products. 

If you would like to learn more about preventing youth substance use call Daydra at
Livingston County Community Alliance 517-545-5944