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Academic Experts Refute Alcohol Study Linking Ads To Underage Drinking

August 6, 2006 08:00 PM

Washington, D.C. – Two critiques published today in the August issue of the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine by experts in the field of advertising research challenged a widely reported study on alcohol advertising by University of Connecticut Communications associate professor Leslie Snyder, citing serious flaws in the study’s methodology, findings and conclusions. 

The two critiques were published by Drs. Reginald Smart and Don Schultz, world renowned, academic experts who each have more than 30 years experience analyzing advertising effects. 

Both experts concluded that Dr. Snyder’s study, touted by advocacy groups and by her as the first to show a causal link between alcohol ads and underage drinking, is scientifically flawed and contradicts decades of scientific research which have shown no causal link.

More Ads Led To Less Drinking, Study Showed

Dr. Reginald Smart, a frequent consultant to the World Health Organization on alcohol-related problems who spent more than 40 years with the Addiction Research Foundation and the University of Toronto, pointed out in his published critique that the study results show that those who saw the most advertising over time actually decreased their drinking, calling into question the entire hypothesis of the study.  Importantly, Dr. Snyder did not refute this point in her rebuttal letter, which was also published in the August issue of the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine.

Dr. Smart also noted major problems with people dropping out of the study with only 31 percent of the original sample staying in until the end.  He noted that while the study is called “longitudinal,” two thirds of the sample was not followed through the 4 interview periods.

He pointed out that the measurement of alcohol use in the study is not a standard one stating, “The reliability and validity of the measure have not been assessed and must be suspect.”  Further he stated, “There is no reference to experimental, economic, and advertising-ban studies, predominantly showing negative effects on alcohol consumption. This suggests a biased, 1-sided view of alcohol advertising effects.”

Dr. Smart concluded, “The study has limitations that make it impossible to understand or interpret the results.  It will not change thinking in the alcohol-advertising debate.” 

Dr. Don Schultz, a professor at Northwestern University who has authored 18 books and over 100 research papers on advertising and marketing, challenged the study in his critique to the Journal stating, “The study refutes decades of very sophisticated advertising, marketing communication, and consumer behavior research” and relies instead on a “Hierarchy of Effects model (circa 1961).…this conditioned-response, behaviorist model has been challenged for years, most recently by new studies in cognitive science.” 

Dr. Schultz also cited the startling attrition rate stating, ”Starting with 1872 respondents and ending with 588 respondents results in a massive attrition rate (68%). One can only wonder at the representativeness of the final group compared with the original sample.”

Further, he commented, “Assuming that certain levels of marketplace advertising expenditures result in certain levels of in-market advertising media weight; that then result in certain levels of message distribution; that then result in certain levels of consumer exposure; that then result in actual consumer behavioral changes is tenuous at best.”  Dr. Schultz concluded that, “These linkages simply cannot be made and no amount of statistical magic can make them appear.”
Dr. Monica Gourovitch, Distilled Spirits Council Senior Vice President for Scientific Affairs, said, “Decades of scientific research and literature do not show that alcohol advertising causes someone to drink, nor does this study.  It is incumbent upon those who are charged with developing public policy on underage drinking to carefully scrutinize the data and formulate policies based on unprejudiced, evidence-based solutions.”  


To contact Dr. Smart call (416) 237-0672

To contact Dr. Schultz call (847) 491-2059 or (847) 328-6488

CONTACT: Public Affairs Telephone: 202-682-8840 SCROLLER Publication Name: Publication Author:


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