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Underage drinkers’ favorite brands

By Jay MacDonald ·
Friday, March 1, 2013
Posted: 10 am ET

The Captain Morgan boot-lift just fell out of fashion. The Coors Light blizzard-busting bullet train is stuck on the tracks. The Budweiser Clydesdales are plodding rather than prancing.

Why? Because the brands they so proudly represent have been found to be among the 10 most favored alcoholic beverages of underage drinkers, directly linking them to 4,700 deaths per year, far more than the 3,000 lives lost annually to texting and other gadget use while driving.

A new report from the Boston University School of Public Health and the Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth (CAMY) at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health found that a relatively small number of brands dominate the deadly underage drinking category.

Here's the roll call, with percentage of respondents:

  1. Bud Light (27.9 percent).
  2. Smirnoff Malt Beverages (17 percent).
  3. Budweiser (14.6 percent).
  4. Smirnoff Vodkas (12.7 percent).
  5. Coors Light (12.7 percent).
  6. Jack Daniel's Bourbons (11.4 percent).
  7. Corona Extra (11.3 percent).
  8. Mike's Hard Lemonade (10.8 percent).
  9. Captain Morgan Rums (10.4 percent).
  10. Absolut Vodkas (10.1 percent).

The study surveyed 1,032 young people ages 13 to 20 about their consumption of 898 alcohol brands in 16 beverage types during the previous 30 days. Of the top 25 brands, 12 were spirits such as vodka, bourbon and rum; nine were beers; and four were flavored malt beverages.

Studies have shown that roughly 70 percent of U.S. high school students have tried alcohol and 22 percent engage in periodic binge drinking.

According to Nationwide Insurance, alcohol-related accidents cost U.S. households at least $165 per year in higher auto insurance premiums.

Study author Michael Siegel says the findings on what underage drinkers are drinking identify for the first time exactly which alcohol brands are killing our young people. "The companies implicated by this study as the leading culprits in the problem of underage drinking need to take immediate action to reduce the appeal of their products to youth," he says.

My view? It's unrealistic to expect liquor, wine or beer manufacturers to make their advertising, and hence their product, unappealing to young people. Exhibit A: the Super Bowl. Exhibit B: most televised sports events.

Instead, parents have a huge role to play here, as do retailers and those old enough to know better than to purchase spirits for teens.

Because while we've made progress -- the Century Council, formed by distillers to fight drunken driving and underage drinking, notes that under-21 drunken driving fatalities declined by 57 percent between 1991 and 2010 -- losing three young lives per day to alcohol-related fatalities remains a national disgrace.

Follow me on Twitter: @omnisaurus

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