Study Shows Tobacco Companies' Anti-Youth Smoking Ads May Have Opposite Effect
An NCI-funded study found that so-called "tobacco prevention" ads sponsored by tobacco companies are at best ineffective, and, at their worst, may actually be encouraging teenagers to smoke.
Schmalfeldt: You've seen them, right? Those TV ads sponsored by major tobacco companies urging teenagers to stay away from cigarettes. Did you ever wonder why a company that sells cigarettes would be trying to chase away potential customers? According to research funded by the National Institutes of Health, they're not!
Vollinger: They're just trying to get their name out there in front of the public, trying to convince people that they're good corporate citizens when in fact they're every day —day in and day out — spending millions and millions of dollars trying to convince teens to continue to smoke or to take up the habit.
Schmalfeldt: That was Bob Vollinger, a program director with the Tobacco Control Research Branch, Division of Cancer Control and Population Sciences at the National Cancer Institute. He said the study found that these so-called "tobacco prevention" ads are at best ineffective, and, at their worst, may actually be encouraging teenagers to smoke.
Vollinger: The ads are creating mixed messages. Other ads that have been developed by state anti-tobacco programs or the Legacy Campaign have shown the hazardous effects of smoking and manipulation by the industry. And these ads are basically just putting out messages that are telling kids not to smoke, but without giving them any reason for it and framing it as an adult behavior, which — of course — is something teenagers are always trying to do is to emulate their peers and people who are older than themselves.
Schmalfeldt: Is this practice, in effect, the tobacco industry's way of saying, "Don't smoke, kids — wink, wink"? Vollinger thinks so. In fact, according to Vollinger, these alleged anti-smoking messages fit in with the tobacco industry's advertising plans.
Vollinger: In the most recent year they've spent $15 billion on advertising and promoting their products. And they're not really going to be doing anything that's discouraging teens from trying to smoke. They need more customers.
Schmalfeldt: The study found that 8th, 10th and 12th graders exposed to the industry's parent-targeted ads were more likely to approve of smoking and were more likely to say they planned to smoke in the future. They were also more likely to say they have smoked in the past 30 days. The study looked at youth-targeted ads by Philip Morris and the Lorrilard Tobacco Company, and parent-targeted ads by Philip Morris. While the ads aimed at kids aren't running in the U.S. any more, Philip Morris continues to air the ads allegedly targeting their parents. The companies also continue to distribute their materials to schools and doctors' offices around the country. In stark contrast, a 2005 study using the same methodology found that state-sponsored tobacco prevention campaigns are effective at reducing teen smoking, with the kids being more likely to perceive the harm from smoking, more likely to say they wouldn't smoke in the future, and less likely to have smoked in the past 30 days. For more information on the dangers of tobacco and some ideas on how to quit, log on to http://smokefree.gov and http://1800quitnow.org. From the National Institutes of Health, I'm Bill Schmalfeldt in Bethesda, Maryland.
About This Audio Report
Reporter: Bill Schmalfeldt
Sound Bite: Bob Vollinger
Topic: Youth Smoking