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Teens Who See Tobacco Ads More Likely to Smoke

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New research corroborates that teens exposed to tobacco ads are more likely to smoke, and are not simply more susceptible to advertising, Reuters Health reported Jan. 18.

According to the study abstract, researchers surveyed 2,101 teens between 10 and 17 who had never smoked and followed up over nine months. The teens were shown ads from which all branding had been removed for six brands of cigarettes and eight commercial products. After nine months, 13 percent of the youth (277) had begun smoking.

At the end of the study period, 20 percent of the youth who had the most exposure to ads began smoking, whereas only 10 percent of those who had the least exposure did so. Exposure to ads for other products did not seem to have a similar effect. Demographic factors such as age, sex, family income, school performance, or a parent or friend who smoked were taken into account.

One of the researchers, Dr. James Sargent of Dartmouth Medical School, explained in an email to Reuters Health that, “This study shows that it is the specific images from tobacco ads that predict smoking and not such a character trait.”

Unlike countries such as Italy and New Zealand, the United States has not completely banned cigarette advertising, although it is not allowed on television, radio, or billboards. According to Reuters Health, William Shadel of the RAND Corporation said that most tobacco ads are now provided at point-of-sale and through “direct marketing.”

“Any parent who takes a close look around their teenager’s environment would be appalled by the amount of imagery that teenagers can and do get exposed to given that we have restrictions,” said Thomas Glynn of the American Cancer Society. “They don’t see it on TV or hear it on radio, but it is everywhere.”

Reuters noted that “nearly a third of teen smokers will continue smoking and die early from a smoking-related disease,” according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 

“In this way, smoking causes more death than alcohol, obesity and illicit drug use combined,” Sargent said. “Tobacco image advertising is one cause of smoking onset; this is why regulatory limits on such (ads) are necessary.”

The study, “Cigarette Advertising and Teen Smoking Initiation,” was published online in Pediatrics on Jan. 17, 2011.

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