In the Doghouse

Charlotte Area Transit System Sells Out to Alcohol Ads

PBR BusSeptember 18, 2012

While communities across the country focus on removing alcohol ads from public property, Charlotte, NC Metropolitan Transit Commissioners took their city a major step backward. In a unanimous vote last month, commissioners decided to overturn a longstanding ban on alcohol advertisements on Charlotte Area Transit System (CATS) property – a move that will allow the exteriors of area buses and trains to be cloaked in advertisements for alcohol.  Approximately 20% of the transit system’s riders are under the minimum legal drinking age of 21, and thousands more will see the ads from the street, as the buses and trains pass their schools and homes each day.

Make no mistake about it: The research is crystal clear. Youth who are exposed to higher levels of alcohol advertising start drinking earlier than their counterparts. If they are already drinkers, they drink more. To add insult to injury, youth who are overexposed to alcohol advertisements also have more favorable attitudes and brand loyalty for alcohol corporations and their products.  In fact, each additional dollar per capita spent on advertising to youth markets leads to a 3% rise in underage drinking. Sixth and seventh graders exposed to high levels of alcohol advertising are 50% more likely to drink than children with low exposure to such marketing. Despite the facts available on the increased harm and risk from alcohol advertising, the Charlotte Area Transit System commissioners somehow justified putting the youth in their community at risk. But why?

The answer, of course, lies in the large amounts of money the alcohol industry is willing to spend to plant its brands into the minds of potential drinkers--including the young (underage) ones. For an estimated $600,000 in additional funding each year, the Metro Transit Commission brushed aside their responsibility to the public interest in favor of a quick fix to their financial shortfalls.

The shortsighted move did not go unnoticed by Charlotte officials or the general public. Some City Councilmembers, who were reportedly blindsided by news of the decision, expressed their intent to fight for repeal of the decision as soon as possible. The Mayor pro tem declared the decision to be “absolutely wrong.”

With two advertising contracts already signed, alcohol ads could show up on area buses and trains at any time. At the moment, the advertising company with the city contract has agreed not to move forward with alcohol ads. Meanwhile, the transit system awaits direction on this issue from the Commission, which is scheduled to meet this month.

Read More:

- Cash-Strapped CATS Turns to Alcohol Ads for Busses, Trains