Dispelling the myth: advertising bans and alcohol consumption

John C. Luik


There is an unfortunate tendency in American public policy debates to attempt to solve long-standing, complex, and multi-dimensional problems with simple solutions that resemble political slogans or sound-bites more than serious attempts to deal with difficult issues. Although this tendency is found across the policy spectrum it is particularly obvious in policy debates that involve advertising. Because of its ubiquity and its allegedly extraordinary powers of persuasion, restricting advertising is often seen as an obvious, simple, “cost-free” and uncontroversial solution, especially for problems involving health.

A number of voices, for instance, have argued that the best way to deal with the alleged epidemic of fat Americans is to ban all advertising of “unhealthy” food. Critics, for example, have recently criticized McDonald's corporate sponsorship of PBS's venerable Sesame Street as an instance of advertising inappropriately “targeting” children. Then too, there have been frequent calls for several years from anti-smoking activists to ban all tobacco advertising on the supposed grounds that such ads lead to youth smoking.