Twitter promotes alcohol to young people

The Twitter accounts of alcohol brands are promoting their products to a young and potentially underage audience, says a research letter in the latest edition of the Medical Journal of Australia.

US data shows that 26% of people aged between 18 and 29 years use Twitter, almost double the rate of those aged 30 to 49 years.

Dr Ann Dadich, Prof. Suzan Burton and Ms Alena Soboleva from the University of Western Sydney’s School of Business studied alcohol promotion on Twitter by seven of the most valuable global alcohol brands over six months.

Although each company’s Twitter following was relatively modest – Heineken topped the list with 58,777 followers – their promotions were often retweeted to a much larger secondary audience, possibly including those aged under 18.

The use of hashtags also increased the audience, attaching the alcohol promotions to popular social happenings such as sports events and concerts, and the widely used “Follow Friday” trend.

The study’s authors said such promotion was “likely to increase the public health costs associated with over-consumption”.

“Alcohol companies’ use of popular hashtags is reminiscent of tobacco companies’ past practices of associating their brands with positive themes”, Dr Dadich and her coauthors wrote.

The 2003 World Health Organisation’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control was successful in banning tobacco promotion in 168 countries.

“That Framework’s trajectory suggests research, public pressure, political will, and international cooperation are needed to reduce widespread alcohol promotion and the associated public health costs”, the authors concluded.

The Medical Journal of Australia is a publication of the Australian Medical Association.

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