MONDAY, Jan. 17 (HealthDay News) -- Tobacco advertisements
really do prompt teenagers to smoke, say the authors of a new study
that calls for a ban on cigarette ads.
In research involving more than 2,100 public school students in
Germany, 277 young people who had never smoked before took up the
habit after viewing tobacco advertising. Those who saw the most ads
were 46 percent more likely to try cigarettes than those who saw no
tobacco ads, the study found.
This "just adds weight to the idea of having the [U.S. Food and
Drug Administration] be able to control tobacco marketing," said
study co-author Dr. James D. Sargent, a professor of pediatrics and
family and community medicine at Dartmouth Medical Center in New
Sargent, who has done extensive research on the influence of
media on teen behaviors, worked with German researchers to produce
the study, published online Jan. 17 in advance of print publication
in the February issue of
"There is a mental model for how advertising works," said Sargent. 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," said Sargent.
Students involved in the study ranged from 10 to 17 years old,
with an average age of 12.5 years, when the study began. They were
shown 12 ads with branding removed -- six for cigarettes and six
for other products, including candy, cars and cell phones. They
were asked to identify the product advertised and recall the brand
if they could.
After nine months, 13 percent of the students who had seen
tobacco ads began smoking, showing a strong connection between the
behavior and tobacco advertising, said Sargent. And the more ads
they saw, the more likely they were to start smoking, the study
Smoking was not related to advertising for other products, the
"Each one of these studies that we do is another little block that supports causality, just another little piece of evidence," Sargent said.
Other known risk factors for teen smoking, such as parental and
peer smoking, were controlled for during the data analysis, the
"This [study] is very important because there are few, if any, longitudinal studies," demonstrating a link between tobacco advertising and teen smoking, said Cheryl Healton, president and CEO of the American Legacy Foundation, an anti-smoking organization.
Previous research has mostly relied on cross-sectional studies,
she said. That type of study documents incidence of a behavior at a
certain point in time and may suggest a link between, say, smoking
and advertising, but it doesn't show cause-and-effect. A
longitudinal study, on the other hand, follows participants for a
period of time in an effort to demonstrate that one causes the
Advertising exploits themes that are meaningful to teens
including sex appeal, masculinity for boys, thinness for girls, and
social acceptance, according to research cited in the study. Most
smoking starts during adolescence, and because tobacco is a
powerful psychoactive drug, the path to addiction readily follows,
the authors added.
Healton said tobacco companies spend about $30 million a day on
advertising in the United States alone. They "have to get young
people to smoke or else they will go out of business," she
Although tobacco advertising is banned on American television,
Healton said some TV programs promote smoking by showing characters
Sex and the City was the longest-running ad for Marlboro
Lights," she said, referring to the popular TV series.
In the United States, teen smoking has declined dramatically
since its peak in 1997, according to data provided by Legacy. Yet,
in 2007 about 20 percent of American teenagers reported smoking in
the previous 30 days, the American Lung Association reported.
The Nemours Foundation details the dangers of smoking
for young people.
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