Cigarette Ads Entice Teens to Smoke
Jan. 19, 2011 - Do cigarette ads have an impact on teens? Absolutely, says a new study.
Teen study participants who had never smoked started the habit after viewing tobacco ads. Those who saw the most ads were 46 percent more likely to try cigarettes than teens who didn’t see any ads.
James D. Sargent, M.D., at Dartmouth Medical Center in New Hampshire, worked with German researchers to produce the study, published online this week in the journal Pediatrics. Dr. Sargent has done extensive research on the influence of media on teen behaviors.
Most smoking starts during adolescence, and because tobacco is a powerful psychoactive drug, teens readily become addicted.
The current study followed 2,100 public school students in Germany who ranged in age from 10 to 17. The students were shown 12 ads with the branding removed: six for cigarettes and six for candy, cars, cell phones, and other products. They were asked to identify the product in each ad and recall the brand, if they could.
After nine months, 13 percent of the students who had seen tobacco ads began smoking. The more ads the students saw, the more likely they were to start smoking.
Those results show a strong connection between the behavior and tobacco advertising, Dr. Sargent says.
Other known risk factors for teen smoking, such as parental and peer smoking, were controlled for when the researchers analyzed the study data.
"There is a mental model for how advertising works," Dr. Sargent says. After viewing an ad, teens "start having favorable thoughts about smoking: 'it might be fun, it might make me more socially accepted.' This preceded any intent to smoke on their part."
Eventually a teen who has seen tobacco ads thinks about trying smoking, and soon after that "they try it," he says.
Dr. Sargent’s study is important because it followed participants over a period of time in an effort to show cause and effect, says Cheryl Healton, Dr.PH, of the American Legacy Foundation, an antismoking group. Previous research has mostly relied on cross-sectional studies, which may only suggest a link between ads and smoking.
Tobacco advertising is banned on U.S. television, but some TV programs promote smoking by showing characters lighting up, Healton says.
Teen smoking in the U.S. has declined dramatically since its peak in 1997. Yet, in 2007, about 20 percent of American teenagers reported smoking in the previous month, the American Lung Association reports.
How to Keep Your Kids from Smoking
Teens may take up smoking to look cool, but by the time they realize it’s not, they’ve become addicted. Here are some practical steps you can take to keep your kids from picking up that first cigarette:
- If you smoke, quit. Children of smokers are more likely to smoke than children of nonsmokers.
- Don’t wait to talk. Discuss the dangers of smoking when your kids are 5 or 6. By adolescence, their health attitudes are already pretty well established.
- Point out ads’ motives. Explain that tobacco ads manipulate people into believing that smoking is socially acceptable and image-enhancing.
- Remind them of the cost. Kids who spend money on cigarettes could instead buy CDs, makeup, new clothes, or video games.
- Know the facts. When talking to your children about smoking, don’t make things up. The truth about smoking is bad enough
- Consider their perspective. Focus on the effects of smoking that matter most to teens, such as bad breath, yellow teeth, and reduced athletic abilities. Teens often don't respond to warnings about the long-term health effects.
Always talk with your health care provider to find out more information.