Dec. 4 2006
Washington, DC — A new study published today in the December issue of the peer-reviewed journal Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine provides powerful new evidence that tobacco marketing influences kids to smoke. The study finds that exposure to tobacco marketing, which includes advertising, promotions and cigarette samples, and to pro-tobacco depictions in films, television, and videos more than doubles the odds that children under 18 will become tobacco users. This comprehensive study underscores the need for Congress to enact long-overdue legislation granting the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authority over tobacco products, including the authority to crack down on marketing that impacts kids.
The researchers also found that pro-tobacco marketing and media depictions lead children who already smoke to smoke more heavily, increasing the odds of progression to heavier use by 42 percent. This rigorous analysis, which included data from more than 50 studies evaluating the impact of exposure to tobacco marketing and media depictions, documents yet again the devastating impact of tobacco marketing on our kids. The more recent studies, conducted since 2001, showed an even larger impact than those conducted earlier, once again casting doubt on the tobacco companies’ claims that they have changed and do not market to kids.
This study is a timely reminder to the incoming Congress that one of its priorities should be to enact legislation granting the FDA effective authority over tobacco products. This legislation would grant the FDA authority to crack down on tobacco marketing and sales to kids; require changes in tobacco products to remove harmful ingredients; require disclosure of the contents of tobacco products and tobacco industry research; require larger, more effective health warnings; and prohibit tobacco companies from making unsubstantiated claims that some tobacco products are safer than others.
Specifically with regard to youth-oriented marketing, this legislation would require the FDA to ban all remaining outdoor advertising within 1,000 feet of schools and playgrounds; ban all remaining tobacco brand sponsorship of sports and entertainment events still allowed under the 1998 state tobacco settlement; ban free samples and the sale of cigarettes in packages that contain fewer than 20 cigarettes; limit all remaining outdoor and point-of-sale tobacco advertising to black-and-white text only; limit tobacco advertising in publications with significant teen readership to black-and-white text only; and ban free giveaways of non-tobacco items with the purchase of a tobacco product or in exchange for coupons of proof of purchase. The FDA would also have authority to further restrict tobacco marketing that influences children to use tobacco or misleads consumers.
Congress needs to grant the FDA comprehensive and flexible authority over tobacco marketing because the tobacco companies have shown time and time again that they will find ways to get around specific restrictions on their harmful marketing practices. The most recent example is the ease with which the tobacco companies have circumvented the marketing restrictions in the 1998 state tobacco settlement (the Master Settlement Agreement, or MSA). Despite the settlement’s restrictions, cigarette manufacturers from 1998 to 2003 increased their marketing expenditures 125 percent to $15.1 billion a year, or $41.5 million a day, according to the Federal Trade Commission (2003 is the most recent year for which the FTC has released cigarette marketing data; marketing expenditures have almost certainly increased substantially since).
The new study also has implications for policies to reduce tobacco use around the world. It shows why it is so important that nations effectively implement the new international tobacco control treaty, the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. Among other things, the treaty requires nations to ban all tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship (there is an exception for nations with constitutional constraints, which would require restrictions on tobacco marketing to the extent allowed by their constitutions). The study also provides strong support for efforts to get the Motion Picture Association of America to adopt a policy requiring an R-rating for all movies that include non-historical depictions of smoking.
The findings of the new study are consistent with those of U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler, who ruled in August that the major tobacco companies have violated civil racketeering laws by lying for decades - and continuing to lie - about the health risks of their products and their marketing to children. Judge Kessler found that “Defendants’ marketing is a substantial contributing factor to youth smoking initiation” and “Defendants’ marketing employs themes which resonate with youth.” Judge Kessler also found “Defendants continue to engage in many practices which target youth, and deny that they do so. Despite the provisions of the MSA, Defendants continue to track youth behavior and preferences and market to youth using imagery which appeals to the needs and desires of adolescents. Defendants are well aware that over eighty percent of adult smokers began smoking before the age of 18, and therefore know that securing the youth market is critical to their survival” (quote from p. 1607 of Final Opinion, available here.)
Tobacco use is the leading preventable cause of death in the U.S., killing more than 400,000 people and costing the nation more than $96 billion in health care bills every year. Every day, more than 1,000 kids become regular smokers, one-third of whom will die prematurely as a result.