Teen advertisements send opposite smoke signals

Wednesday 1 November, 2006

A world first study has found smoking prevention advertisements sponsored by tobacco companies targeted at parents do not work and may encourage teenagers to take up smoking.

The study published online today by the American Journal of Public Health in the United States examined youth exposure to tobacco company television advertising campaigns and how that exposure influenced smoking-related beliefs and behaviour.

The study's lead author, Professor Melanie Wakefield, from The Cancer Council Victoria and an NHMRC Principal Research Fellow, began the U.S. funded research while working at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC).

Professor Wakefield and her team of researchers from Bridging the Gap, a policy research program based at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) and the University of Michigan, found that among 16 to 18 year olds, higher youth exposure to parent-targeted ads was, on average, associated with lower perceived harm of smoking, stronger approval of smoking, stronger intentions to smoke in the future, and a greater likelihood of having smoked in the past 30 days.

They also found that 14 to 18 year olds were generally not influenced by increasing exposure to tobacco industry youth-targeted ads, which stressed that it is not cool for young people to smoke. The final sample size for the report was 103,172 students.

"This research provides the clearest evidence to date that tobacco industry-sponsored smoking prevention ads don't work and that they are acting as a marketing smokescreen to promote tobacco to youth," Professor Wakefield said.

"Tobacco-sponsored ads targeted at youth have no impact and those targeted at parents seem to have an adverse effect on students who are in their middle and later teenage years. The ads give the impression that youth should not smoke because they are too young - and that's not a good enough reason. There is no mention in these ads of the serious health risks of smoking," she said.

Quit and VicHealth Centre for Tobacco Control Director, Mr Todd Harper, said despite the tobacco industry's attempts at an image makeover, they remain the perennial wolf in sheep's clothing.

"The tobacco industry claim to do all they can to discourage youth smoking, but these tobacco industry sponsored advertisements appear to be priming teens to take up a habit that will eventually kill two out of three lifetime smokers.

"The tobacco industry admit they are simply trying to delay youth smoking as opposed to preventing uptake all together, implying young people are fair game in a deadly recruitment drive for customers.

"We must not forget that this is an industry whose objective is to sell more products, and therefore addict more smokers and this has not changed over time, " he said.

Mr Harper said the success of the current tobacco control campaign in Australia illustrates an advertisement doesn't need to explicitly suggest that parents talk to their kids about smoking for that discussion to take place.

"The recent campaign in Australia, focusing on the graphic health warnings on cigarette packs, inspired discussion about the health effects of smoking within families, supporting the idea a media campaign does not have to be targeted at youth, to have a positive impact on youth.

"An effective tobacco control message will generate conversation and debate without that specific instruction from the advertisement," Mr Harper said.

 

ends

Edwina Vellar,
Media Manager
ph: (03) 9635 5400
mob: 0417 303 811
email:
Edwina.Vellar@cancervic.org.au