The alcohol industry can do much more to limit young people's attraction and access to its websites. Instead, it creates entertainment cybercafes appealing to those under age, promoting interest in its products at the same time.
Though the alcohol companies say they restrict online access to adults, at many sites, the age restrictions are a virtual joke. On at least one site, any date of birth can be typed in, and access to the site granted. At others, no restrictions are in place at all.
Once inside, a visitor can choose from a variety of games geared toward young people (like air hockey, car racing, and pinball), or other interactive attractions, such as background music, movie clips, or downloadable "instant message" icons, which often carry the logos of products.
A study clearly shows the reach of such marketing. The Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth (CAMY) at Georgetown University reports nearly 700,000 "in depth" visits (meaning three or more "page views" on a site) to alcohol company websites in the last six months of 2003 were from people under the legal drinking age.
That figure amounts to 13.1 percent of all visits to some 55 branded alcohol company sites. (CAMY used a leading Internet audience measurement service to produce its report.)
According to the report, 10 of 15 beer websites feature games, and 76 percent of such sites have parental controls that can be overridden. Something's clearly amiss.
The alcohol industry's marketing codes obviously need strengthening. The Department of Health and Human Services and Congress can do more to call parental attention to this serious matter. The doors are closed to underage persons at liquor stores. They should be closed in cyberspace.