Jan. 14 1997
Washington, DC - A new survey finds 76 percent of U.S. teenagers say cigarette advertising intentionally targets them. When asked what attracts young people to smoke specific brands, almost twice as many teens cited "advertising" over any other single factor. The findings are part of the first national survey asking youth ages 12-17 about cigarette advertising and federal efforts to regulate the tobacco industry. "Tobacco companies have always maintained that their advertising isn't aimed at kids, and that their ads don't cause kids to smoke," said Emily Broxterman, a ninth grader from Overland Park, KS who presented the survey data at a press conference here. "These findings show that people my age think Joe Camel is talking to them, and that his image is by far the biggest reason why they start smoking Camels." More than a quarter of survey respondents answered "advertising" (with no prompting) when asked why teenagers choose to smoke certain brands of cigarettes. The other leading responses were because "friends smoke that brand" (15.5 percent) and "to be cool" (9.9 percent). When asked why teens would choose Camels, almost 40 percent named "advertising" as the reason. The survey also shows that teens strongly support the FDA rule designed to stop tobacco companies from selling and marketing their products to children. Some 73 percent agreed that cigarettes should not be advertised in magazines read by teens; 66 percent favored prohibiting cigarette companies from sponsoring sporting and entertainment events; and 89 percent thought cigarettes should not be advertised near schools and playgrounds. More than 90 percent agreed that stores should put cigarettes behind the counter and out of reach of minors. Broxterman and another ninth grader, Morgan Lesko from Kensington, MD, called on the new Congress to support the FDA rule signed by President Clinton last year. The rule's first provision, requiring age verification for all tobacco sales, becomes effective Feb. 28. "We ask Congress to listen to what their young constituents are saying," said Lesko. "They want to put Joe Camel in deep freeze before he makes one more kid think that smoking is cool." The young advocate and his brother, Max, created a Web site where people can get information about local anti-smoking activities. Broxterman and Lesko are members of the Smoke-Free Class of 2000, a group of some two million teens nationwide who have pledged to lead smoke-free lives. The Smoke-Free Class started in 1988 to help fulfill then-Surgeon General C. Everett Koop's wish for a smoke-free society by the year 2000. The Smoke-Free students, third graders in 1988 and now in the ninth grade, have worked to keep their schools, friends and families tobacco free until they graduate in 2000. Judging from recent statistics on youth tobacco use, these young advocates face an uphill struggle. Tobacco companies pocket $210 million annually in profits from sales to children. Almost 35 percent of teens in the U.S. smoke cigarettes -- a 16-year high. The Centers For Disease Control reported recently that five million children will die early from tobacco-related deaths, unless current trends are reversed. "Smoking has become a pediatric epidemic in this country," says William D. Novelli, president of the CAMPAIGN FOR TOBACCO-FREE KIDS. Novelli's organization gets dozens of letters each week from children wanting to know what they can do to stop their families and friends from smoking. In the survey, 85 percent of the respondents said they would like their friends and families to stop smoking in the new year. Richard Heyman, M.D., chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ committee on substance abuse, said "Children begin smoking at an alarmingly early age. Of those people who will ever smoke, 90 percent begin before their 19th birthday. In fact, most start around age 12 and become regular smokers before their 14th birthday." The telephone survey of 513 teenagers was conducted Dec. 10-15, 1996, by International Communications Survey Research Group in Media, PA. The survey, commissioned by the CAMPAIGN FOR TOBACCO-FREE KIDS, has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.4 percent.