Delaware Lawmakers Propose Ban on Online Alcohol Marketing to Kids

April 24, 2015
Attorney General Matt Denn with some of the sponsors of online privacy legislation.

Delaware lawmakers proposed an Online Privacy and Protection Act this week that includes restrictions on alcohol marketing to children. The bill is sponsored by Senate President Pro Tempore Patricia Blevins, D-Elsmere, and state House of Representatives Speaker Peter C. Schwartzkopf, D-Rehoboth Beach. Delaware Attorney General Matt Denn is supporting the package of bills containing the alcohol ad ban.

Such restrictions are sorely needed. Currently, alcohol companies are allowed to self-regulate, with the industry promoting its own guidelines for advertising and marketing practices and virtually nonexistent enforcement. Alcohol Justice and other public health advocates have long decried the self-regulation charade as ineffective in protecting youth from alcohol advertising. The system's weak guidelines allow producers to overexpose youth to alcohol marketing and advertising, with no monitoring, enforcement, or penalties for violations.

Online advertising to youth is particularly problematic, as there are many routes available to expose children, including targeted advertisements, fan-based pages such as those for sports teams, shared content such as videos, and interactive games and contests sponsored by alcohol producers. Exposure is difficult to track, allowing alcohol producers to disavow their role in providing, disseminating, and encouraging the sharing of alcohol marketing content to children. A recent Diageo and Sean "Diddy" Combs Ciroc Vodka campaign using Instagram, the most popular social media app among teenagers, exemplifies this trend. An Australian study released this week concludes that alcohol producers use social media to aggressively target youth through sports sponsorship, encouraging alcohol consumption as an integral part of sports participation and spectatorship. Recent research has also demonstrated the strong influence of branded advertising in getting youth to drink particular alcohol brands, creating customers for life.

Delaware is the first state to specifically propose this kind of ban on online alcohol ads targeting children, but should not be the last. While the online privacy bill was just introduced and must make its way to the governor's desk, the state has taken an important step in protecting its youth from harmful online alcohol marketing and promotion.