Children and young people are being exposed to marketing by alcohol companies via popular social networking sites such as Facebook, according to a new report.
The study for the charity Alcohol Concern examined a variety of online marketing techniques used by the alcohol industry, including branded websites with interactive games and competitions that are attractive to young people.
The report, entitled New media, new problem?, found that alcohol companies are increasingly utilising the web for advertising.
Don Shenker, Chief Executive of Alcohol Concern, warned: “There’s a real danger of children and young people being exposed to alcohol marketing on such sites, particularly given that age verification mechanisms are largely ineffective.
“This is especially worrying given that research shows that alcohol advertising and marketing have a significant impact on young people’s decisions about alcohol.”
Alcohol Concern recommends that official alcohol marketing should not be permitted on social networking sites.
It also said further investigation is needed to uncover better ways of restricting access and health bodies should counter official alcohol marketing messages by embracing new media themselves.
Dr Bruce Riston, Chair of Scottish Health Action on Alcohol Problems, said: “The extent to which alcohol producers are now using digital media to promote alcohol is a matter of serious concern.”
The report found that online alcohol adverts in the UK almost doubled between 2007 and 2008, as it noted companies tried to reach a diverse range of audiences through innovative means.
A spokeswoman for the Portman Group, which represents the drinks industry, denied online alcohol advertising was targeting under-18s.
She said: “It is perfectly legitimate for drinks companies to use social media to market their products to adult consumers provided there are clear safeguards in place – which there are.”
Last year researchers at the Scripps Research Institute in California found that teenagers who binge on alcohol could be affecting the part of the brain that controls memory.
The research on binge drinking was done on Rhesus monkeys who were given large amounts of alcohol over a short period of time.
It was found that the production of cells in the part of the monkey’s brain that controls memory, the hippocampus, decreased by 80 to 90 per cent.