Alcohol Promotional Items: Invitation to the Drink?

May 15, 2005

Adolescents who own an alcohol promotional item (API), such as a tee shirt or baseball cap, are one-and-a half times as likely to try drinking alcohol than peers who don't sport such brand-imprinted items, according to a limited study by Dartmouth Medical School researchers. But if such a rise in risk is real, a solution is readily at hand, they say.

Adolescents who own an alcohol promotional item (API), such as a tee shirt or baseball cap, are one-and-a half times as likely to try drinking alcohol than peers who don't sport such brand-imprinted items, according to a limited study by Dartmouth Medical School researchers. But if such a rise in risk is real, a solution is readily at hand, they say.

Presenter and lead study author Auden C. McClure, MD, pediatrician at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center and medical school faculty member, studied 2,406 middle school students from Vermont and New Hampshire beginning in 1999. Participants' grade level at the start of the study ranged from five to eight; only students who self-reported that they had never used alcohol were included.

At follow-up, 1 to 2 years later, subjects were asked if they owned an API and if they had begun alcohol use. Fourteen percent of students reported they did own at least one API and 15% reported using alcohol. Students who owned an API at follow-up had a higher rate of alcohol initiation (24.1%) than did non-owners of an API (12.3%), and, again, those who owned an API were significantly more likely to have engaged in early-onset drinking.

The study's authors, speaking here today, offered a strong recommendation to the alcohol industry and parents: First, the industry should follow the example of the tobacco industry and abandon the practice of distributing promotional items. Second, parents should restrict their children's possession of, and access to, these promotional items in the home.

"More studies need to be done to see if this association holds in a more representative population," Dr. McClure concluded, "but it is clear that APIs are prevalent among young adolescents and that ownership is associated with early initiation of alcohol use. In addition, when adolescents wear these items they become walking advertisements for the alcohol industry, advertising to their peers." (Platform Session 4653)