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By Elizabeth Henehan, MPH
The MBTA has loosened their ban on alcohol ads despite the fact that research from the BU School of Public Health notes that alcohol ads in subway and streetcar stations reach the equivalence of every 5th through 12th grader in the city of Boston. More than just advertising affects underage alcohol consumption – peers, parents, income, gender to name a few. However, advertising has been shown to influence underage drinking behaviors particularly among adolescents who are susceptible to the appeals of certain advertising messages. Advertisements with animals, humor, and those with appeals to social benefits of drinking are particularly alluring for youth. The alcohol industry is subject to voluntary advertising guidelines that suggest best practices for advertising content and media placement requirements of alcohol ads. That being said, it is unclear why the MBTA is now allowing alcohol ads when the placements themselves may not be compliant with the current advertising guidelines.
Estimating true costs of business
According to the CDC, excessive alcohol costs the US economy $249 billion dollars or about $2.05 per drink. For a local economy like Somerville these costs arrive in the form of costs to the criminal justice system and healthcare system due to excessive drinking including underage consumption. Financial costs of underage drinking that fall on the city’s budget include but are not limited to law enforcement for drunk driving, alcohol related violence including sexual assaults, in addition to health care costs for accidental injuries, emergency room visits, days missed from work or school, and the lists goes on. If a transportation system that serves the citizens of this city is able to financially benefit from advertising products that are illegal for many of their riders Somerville should consider whether this is in their best interest to let the MBTA profit off adventures that contribute to the cities burden of health care and criminal costs.
Since this shift away from barring alcohol advertising on publicly funded entities such as the T and bus shelters, there has been a steady of stream of ads popping up around Somerville, Cambridge and downtown Boston. Crown Royal recently displayed a wall to wall spread in the downtown crossing T station, billboards at MBTA bus stations, and the Miller High Life ad that was displayed prominently above Porter Square just a stone’s throw away from the Kennedy Elementary School. While advertising is not the only factor that influences underage drinking, the true costs of advertising place a financial burden on local cities to deal with the negative health and social consequences.