Alcoholic beverage companies are using social media outlets to recruit young drinkers, in some cases using cartoon characters and stuffed toys to promote their products, researchers say.
They said a lack of stringent monitoring and regulation of social media has led to a surge of alcohol advertising on this medium.
Studies showed alcohol-related activities had been promoted via Facebook, Twitter and YouTube by major alcohol brands.
"The social network has become a powerful tool for the alcohol industry to advertise products among targeted drinkers, especially the young," Parichart Sthapitanonda, an academic at Chulalongkorn University's faculty of communication arts, said.
Speaking during the three-day Global Alcohol Policy Conference that ended yesterday, Ms Parichart estimated the budget for alcohol-related commercials and activities via these social networks could climb to billions of baht in Thailand alone.
Ms Parichart said young people can help promote events organised and financed by alcohol products by sharing photos, video clips and links for their friends to follow.
That made social media outlets highly appealing to big alcohol companies, as they could gain publicity at little expense.
As a result, the alcohol brands are easily recognised and even become the "talk of the town in some cases", she said.
David Jernigan, director of the Centre on Alcohol Marketing and Youth at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, said online advertisements of leading alcohol brands in the US often went viral on YouTube and could attract millions of views.
The US academic said underage people could be exposed to alcohol marketing of various kinds.
Some youth-oriented marketing strategies, such as using cartoon characters and stuffed toys to represent their alcohol brands, could violate self-regulatory codes.
The young were left unprotected from uncontrolled marketing on Facebook, Myspace, YouTube, Twitter, Flickr and Iphone applications, he said.
Monitoring and control of alcohol advertisements is considered the best way to prevent underage drinking, he said. Actions by parents and regulators were also needed to shield young people from overexposure to alcohol ads.
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- Writer: Apiradee Treerutkuarkul