Alcohol producers have bypassed restrictions on advertising in Australian media by targeting young people directly online, a Wollongong-based health expert warned yesterday.
According to the University of Wollongong’s Professor Sandra Jones, cyberspace is where it’s at – with countless promotions for colourful cocktails and mixes of alcohol-laced energy drinks infiltrating the lives of young people.
She said feedback from teenagers was that mainstream advertising had become irrelevant and it was time policymakers took action to address advertising via the internet.
"What we are finding with young people is that if alcohol is not advertised in those general forums it is much more appealing," Prof Jones said.
"If it's on TV it's something their parents might get. We are moving away from that and talking about the internet.
"Things like the co-creation of brands and 'friending brands' on Facebook; young people uploading pictures of themselves drinking their favourite mix."
Prof Jones, director of UOW's Centre for Health Initiatives, said people aged 12 to 17 were "having a relationship with a brand".
"It becomes part of their cultural circle. It's not like an ad on TV. We've done a terrible job of monitoring what's on the internet."
Products were also being modified to appeal specifically to young people, she said.
"Pink might look like it tastes nice, added sugar for sweetness, it's pretty and may appeal to girls for example," she said.
"Other products have sugar taken out so there are fewer calories.
"We have to move beyond just the focus on the ads we see on TV. We need to look at a broad range of things - young people are far more aware than we are."
Prof Jones will share her thoughts today at the Australian Medical Association's national summit on alcohol marketing to young people.
The summit will discuss concerns around contemporary alcohol marketing to young people - including digital marketing and new media, sponsorship of sporting and cultural events, and marketing tricks and tactics.
Prof Jones will join other expert researchers, doctors and politicians to call on the federal government to establish an inquiry into alcohol marketing to examine stronger regulation and policy.
The AMA will also launch a new publication "exposing the failure of self-regulation in the alcohol industry" and recommend changes.