Question of the Week

November 14, 2005


Most teens do not smoke. Unfortunately, far too many are starting the habit unaware of how difficult it will be when they decide to quit.

"Recently, ... tobacco control experts have reconsidered their focus on prevention, in part because adolescent smoking has increased since 1991, after having plateaued in the 1970s and declined slightly during the 1980s. That suggests that even the best prevention efforts, as they are currently deployed, aren't enough to stem the tide of teen-age smoking, many researchers believe. ... In 1999, 35 percent of high school seniors had smoked a cigarette in the past month, and 23 percent were daily smokers. About 40 percent of adolescent smokers report having unsuccessfully tried to quit in the past."

Most teens do not smoke, and many of those who do have tried to quit. Even more try to quit in adulthood.

"Almost no smoker begins as an adult. Statistics show that about nine out of 10 tobacco users start before they're 18 years old. ... Most adults who started smoking in their teens never expected to become addicted. That's why people say it's just so much easier to not start smoking at all...."

"[I]t's just so much easier to not start smoking at all."
So, why would someone start in the first place?

"Two recent evaluations of state-based antismoking [advertising] campaigns used longitudinal surveys of adolescents to ascertain whether there was a link between self-reported ad exposure and reductions in smoking initiation (Sly et al., 2001) or progression to regular use (Siegel and Biener, 2000). ... It was concluded that these states‚ antismoking television ads were effective in dissuading adolescents from taking up smoking (also see MMWR, 1999). Unfortunately, the contribution of this research is somewhat limited by the correlational nature of the data. The data clearly show that adolescents who reported seeing the antismoking ads later manifested a lower propensity to smoke, but these data could be interpreted in one of two ways. One possibility is that the antismoking ads reduced adolescent smoking. A rival explanation is that adolescents who had strong antismoking beliefs at the onset were more likely to pay attention to the antismoking ads and also were less likely to smoke in the future (Pechmann and Reibling, 2000b)."

Maybe teens and preteens who notice the anti-smoking ads are less likely to smoke. Maybe those who agree with the messages in these ads are more likely to notice them.

Due to regulations on the tobacco industry, ads for cigarettes are not as frequent as they once were, while ads against are easier to find. Whether the ads are for or against, teens (and preteens) can often tell what message the advertisers are trying to sell, and then choose to buy or reject that message.

"Cigarette ads still show smokers as attractive and hip, sophisticated and elegant, or rebellious and cool. The good news is that these ads aren't as visible and are less effective today than they used to be: Just as doctors are more savvy about smoking today than they were a generation ago, teens are more aware of how manipulative advertising can be. The government has also passed laws limiting where and how tobacco companies are allowed to advertise to help prevent young kids from getting hooked on smoking."

Ads work, but only to a certain extent. Teens (even children) do not always watch ads -- and don't always pay attention when they do. If ads can only do so much, then what does work?

"Nearly 40 percent of U.S. adolescents who give cigarette smoking a try do so because they saw it in movies, a study said on Monday. In the study, described as the first national look at the influence of movie smoking on youths, the authors urged Hollywood to cut back on depictions of smoking or shots of cigarette brands. ... Researchers at Dartmouth Medical School asked 6,522 children aged 10 to 14 to identify films they had seen from a list of 50 randomly selected box office hits released in the United States from 1998 to 2000. Even after considering other factors known to influence smoking, the study found that adolescents with the highest exposure to movie smoking were 2.6 times more likely to try it compared to those with the lowest exposure. ... 'Because movie exposure to smoking is so pervasive, its impact on this age group outweighs whether peers or parents smoke or whether the child is involved in other activities, like sports.'"
University of California Health Library

Ads and product placement are both ways that cigarette companies and anti-smoking campaigns try to reach their target audience. As members of society who see ads for cigarettes (and other products) -- and are exposed to these products in movies and in life -- what do people need to know to keep from becoming a marketing target?

Are many teens able to:

  • "identify the marketing presence of tobacco and alcohol in their communities,
  • define and identify examples of 'product brands,' or
  • identify how marketing, advertising, promotion, and event sponsorships 'normalize' and 'glamorize' tobacco and alcohol use through building attractive 'brand images,' and
  • understand the different and combined influences of advertising, promotions, and event sponsorships.
  • identify their exposure to tobacco and alcohol messages in entertainment media,
  • identify the positive and negative role models for tobacco and alcohol use which occur in entertainment media..."?

Questions of the Week:
What information and skills would help children better process the obvious (and subtle) marketing campaigns of the tobacco industry? How does this differ from the information that preteens and teens need? What information does everyone (regardless of age) need? What skills for processing media input are needed by consumers of all ages?

How would you reach your peers with an anti-smoking campaign? How would you reach those in different age groups? Of those you know who smoke, why did they start? When did they start? What might have helped them avoid developing the habit? If you were a teacher or parent, what would you do to reach your students and/ or children and try to help them avoid the cigarette addiction?

Please email me with any ideas or suggestions.
Note: Due to increasing amounts of SPAM sent to this account, please include "QOW" in the subject line when sending me email.

I look forward to reading what you have to say.

[email protected]
Health Community Coordinator
Access Excellence @ the National Health Museum

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