Smoking :: Effect of tobacco ads may backfire

Anti-smoking advertising sponsored by tobacco companies not only has no negative effect on teen smoking, it may actually encourage youngsters to smoke, a new study suggests. Prevention ads aimed at parents also tend to backfire.

Tobacco company-sponsored anti-smoking advertising aimed at youths not only has no negative effect on teen smoking, it may actually encourage youngsters to smoke, according to a study co-authored by an Oregon State University researcher.

Results from the study also show that tobacco industry-sponsored prevention ads aimed at parents often have harmful effects on students, also increasing their likelihood of smoking.

“We suspected this the minute we saw the kind of ads the tobacco companies were creating,” said Brian Flay, a professor in the Department of Public Health at Oregon State University. “Their objective is to get customers, not to stop customers from finding them.”

The study appears in the December issue of American Journal of Public Health.

Flay was one of nine researchers from Bridging the Gap, a policy research program based at the University of Illinois at Chicago and the University of Michigan, who worked on this study, which is the first to examine how youth are affected by parent-targeted ads sponsored by the tobacco industry.

More than 100,000 students from all areas of the country in 8th, 10th and 12th grades were surveyed to assess the relationship between exposure to tobacco company prevention advertising and youth smoking-related beliefs, intentions and behaviors. Researchers linked these data with Nielsen Media Research data on the exposure of youth to smoking-related ads that appeared on network and cable stations in the 75 largest United States media markets from 1999 to 2002.

Some of the findings include:

Each additional youth-targeted prevention ad viewed by a student resulted in a 3 percent stronger intention among all students to smoke in the future.

There was a 12 percent increase in the likelihood that 10th- and 12th-grade students would become smokers if they watched prevention ads targeted at their parents.

On average, the students were exposed to more than four youth-targeted ads per month.

In analyzing the data, researchers adjusted their analysis for factors other than tobacco company prevention ads that might have had an effect on levels of youth smoking. Those additional factors include smoking laws, cigarette prices and other televised advertising about not smoking.

The National Cancer Institute, the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation funded the study.

Flay, who has conducted school-based and health research for more than 30 years, said parents who find the amount of advertising targeting their children overwhelming can take preventative steps.

“Parents should have a clear message about smoking and always reinforce that message against smoking from an early age,” he said.

“Even parents who are smokers can make it clear and communicate to their child that they wished they hadn?t started smoking, because the majority of smokers do feel that way.”

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