You can take
your news straight, or you can take it with a generous
dose of snark. Either way, the story seems clear. Here’s Amy Norton, of
Middle-schoolers who sport alcohol-branded T-shirts and caps may start to
drink sooner than their peers, according to a new study.
It’s uncertain whether clothes or bags with beer logos encourage some kids
to start drinking. But the study results are concerning enough that parents
and schools should consider keeping the merchandise out of kids’ hands, said
lead author Dr. Auden McClure of Dartmouth Medical School in Lebanon, New
Norton gets an A for this story. Everything she writes is
accurate, and although she doesn’t display any skepticism about the report,
she does find space to report, in a short piece, that causality has not been
determined and that the study did take into account "factors such as school
performance and friends’ drinking habits".
What’s more, skepticism about the report would not necessarily be justified,
in this case. I was not predisposed to be impressed with the study, since the
there was a hint of alarmism to the coverage. But in fact, after reading the
study, I’m coming around to Dr McClure’s point of view.
For one thing, McClure is no absolutist when it comes to underage drinking.
The study was careful to exclude a glass of wine at the family dinner table,
say: it looked only at drinking of which parents were unaware. If you read the
study, there’s no "loathing of the alcohol bogeyman," as Consumerist’s
Ben Popken puts it.
And although underage drinking is nowhere near as harmful as underage smoking,
the study makes a pretty convincing case that alcohol merchandise encourages
drinking just as it was conclusively proved in the past that tobacco merchandise
encourages smoking. After all, the study controlled for " higher grade
in school, male gender, exposure to peer drinking, having tried smoking, poorer
academic performance, higher levels of sensation seeking and rebelliousness,
and less-responsive and restrictive parenting styles." There’s pretty strong
evidence that there’s more going on here than a simple correlation. Yes, the
type of kids who drink might well be the same type of kids who express a certain
amount of rebellion through wearing beer-branded clothes. But insofar as such
things can be controlled for, owners of beer-branded clothes are still
significantly more likely to drink than those without such merchandise.
Ultimately, the benefit of banning alcohol-branded merchandise in schools might
be small, but then the cost is probably smaller still. It’s very easy to forget
that advertising works, because most people don’t realise when they’re being
affected by it. But if you wouldn’t allow a full-on Budweiser advertisement
in a school, why would you allow a Budweiser t-shirt? It has, if anything, an
even greater effect.