The Marin Institute Takes On Big Alcohol and Wins!

In September 2006, San Francisco’s Bay Area Rapid Transit District (BART) board of directors voted to reverse their previous decision prohibiting alcohol advertising on BART buses and trains. Following this announcement, alcohol industry watchdog, The Marin Institute, took quick action and launched a campaign to get BART to reinstate the ban. The Marin Institute noted that while BART officials pointed to the increased revenues that would be associated with the alcohol ads, they neglected to mention that allowing such ads would further expose young people to alcohol industry marketing.

Two recent studies have noted that alcohol industry advertising has a strong effect on youth and contributes to underage drinking. In January of 2006, the American Medical Association’s Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine published a study by Snyder et al which found that the number of alcohol ads viewed was positively associated with the amount of alcohol consumed by youth. Each advertisement viewed raised the number of drinks consumed by 1%.

In December of 2006, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) released a statement expressing serious concern about the effects of corporate marketing on youth. The AAP noted that youth view an estimated 40,000 advertisements per year and that exposure to advertising from the food, beverage, tobacco, and alcohol industries may significantly contribute to obesity, poor nutrition, alcohol, and tobacco use in young people. According to the AAP, youth spend an estimated $180 billion per year and influence an additional $200 billion of their parents’ spending per year. As a result, advertisers consider young people to be an important market and seek new and creative ways to reach them. With regard to alcohol, the AAP argued that with $5.7 billion spent per year on advertising and promotion, and an estimated 2,000 beer and wine commercials viewed annually, exposure to alcohol industry advertising “represents a significant risk factor” for youth. Referring to the fact that minority neighborhoods have five times the number of alcohol billboards as do white neighborhoods, the AAP further noted that youth of color may be particularly at risk.

Pointing to the risks for youth associated with alcohol industry marketing, on December 7, 2006 the Marin Institute and Bay Area community leaders came out to oppose BART’s decision. Because of the strength of their coalition and the size of their turnout, the BART board of directors reversed its decision to allow alcohol advertising on Bay Area buses and trains.

After their victory with BART, the Marin Institute continued to address outdoor alcohol advertising in San Francisco. In January of this year, the organization issued a report stating that CBS Outdoor, the nation’s largest outdoor advertiser and owner of outdoor advertising space in San Francisco, had blatantly disregarded voluntary alcohol advertising codes as well as its contract with the City’s Municipal Transportation Agency (MUNI) by placing alcohol advertisements near schools. The Marin Institute surveyed three of San Francisco’s school districts and found 15 alcohol ads on public transit shelters. Ads were also found near playgrounds and churches.

The Marin Institute stated in the report, “Extrapolating to the entire city (all 11 districts), we conservatively estimate that at least 55 ads are in direct violation of the CBS Outdoor and MTA contract. Furthermore, we conservatively estimate at least 81 violations of both contract and national standards city wide.”

The Marin Institute held a press conference calling on CBS Outdoor to immediately remove the ads and for the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Authority to enforce the terms of the contract. Shortly afterward, the offending ads were removed. In addition, MUNI pledged to disallow alcohol advertising in future contracts.

Between their successful BART and MUNI campaigns, the Marin Institute has managed to keep the Bay Area completely free of outdoor alcohol advertising on public transportation. Not only will their efforts significantly reduce the amount of such advertising youth are exposed to, but they demonstrate that community campaign pressure on public officials, advertisers, and corporations can lead to victories that protect public health.