Children Become Victim of Cigarette Makers Advertising

Teens Become a Victim of Cigarette Makers Advertising…

The Marlboro Man and other tobacco and smoking images can influence teenagers to start smoking, a recent study has shown..

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)’s statistics state that almost twenty-five percent of American high schoolers smoke. About a third of these will go on with the habit and die of smoking-related disease at an early age.

The recent study published in Pediatrics shows that tobacco ads can influence young people even when they don’t respond to other kinds of advertising.

There have been other studies of teen responses to cigarette ads. James Sargent of Dartmouth Medical School in Dartmouth, NH, who worked on the recent research with German colleagues, said that some earlier studies had been suspected of merely identifying teens who were inherently prone to follow any behavioral prompting, including all sorts of advertising.

In an e-mail, Dr. Sargent explained, “This study shows that it is the specific images from tobacco ads that predict smoking and not such a character trait.”

The study followed over 2,000 teenagers between 10 and 17 years old who, at the outset, had never smoked. Researchers initially surveyed them, showing them billboards for six cigarette brands and eight non-tobacco products, with no brand information showing. They were asked if they could identify the product brands, and how often they had seen each ad image in the past.

Over the course of the next nine months, approximately thirteen percent of the subjects began to use cigarettes. On average, those with survey scores in the top third of brand recognition and previous cigarette ad exposure were almost fifty percent more likely to start smoking than those with bottom-third scores.

This effect held true even when other risk factors were taken into account, as sex, age, family income, school grades, or smokers among the teen’s circle of friends and family.

Sargent attributed the susceptibility of young adolescents to advertising to their developmental stage, in which it’s important for them to establish independent identities. “They do this by ‘trying on’ things they see others doing, much like trying on clothes in a store. They try smoking, in part because of the way they view other smokers and also in part because of what they think smoking might do for them,” he stated. “For example, a young male might adopt smoking to appear more manly — like the Marlboro man.”

The direct or indirect messages in tobacco ads can convey associations between smoking and independence, sexual attractiveness, or (when aimed at girls) thinness. Cigarette advertising has been made illegal on American TV, radio, and billboards, and are less often seen in magazines. However, both the nations represented by the authors of this study – Germany and the U.S. – are more tolerant of tobacco ads than nations like New Zealand and Italy which have banned them completely.

The study team say that keeping teenagers from smoking means that they’re less likely to take up the habit later on. But, as the CDC numbers show, of those who do start as teens, about 30 percent will keep it up and be at high risk of early death as a result.

Dr. Sargent summed up, “In this way, smoking causes more death than alcohol, obesity and illicit drug use combined.”

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