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New Study Shows Tobacco Marketing Undermines Good Parenting Practices

Study Underscores Need for Congress to Grant FDA Authority Over Tobacco Products And For States to Increase Cigarette Taxes and Fund Prevention Programs
July 16, 2002

Washington, DC — A study being published in the July issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine presents powerful new evidence that tobacco industry marketing undermines the best efforts of parents to prevent their kids from smoking. The study adds to the growing body of evidence that tobacco advertising and other forms of marketing influence kids to smoke and shows for the first time that tobacco marketing has its greatest impact on kids whose parents follow recommended parenting practices.

The study found that good parenting practices, such as being actively involved in kids' lives and setting age-appropriate limits (called 'authoritative parenting' in the study), cut in half the risk that an adolescent will start smoking. However, the study also found that tobacco marketing undermines these parental efforts and is the leading risk factor in influencing kids of more authoritative parents to start smoking. Kids from more authoritative households who did become smokers were five times more likely to have been influenced by tobacco marketing than youth smokers from less authoritative households.

'The promotion of smoking by the tobacco industry appears to undermine the capability of authoritative parenting to prevent adolescents from starting to smoke,' concludes the study by researchers at the University of California San Diego and the University of North Carolina. Their study involved 1,641 California adolescents who were surveyed first in 1996, when 12 to 14 years old, and again in 1999.

The researchers suggest that tobacco marketing that associates smoking with independence, coolness, fun and risk-taking may have particular influence on adolescents with stricter parents.

'It is possible that adolescents whose parents strive to keep them from engaging in risky behaviors like smoking comprise a high yield market segment for the tobacco industry. If true, it would appear that cigarette advertising and promotions strategies are designed to undermine recommended parenting practices,' the study concludes.

The study contradicts two frequent tobacco industry claims: first, that tobacco marketing influences only brand preferences of current smokers and does not play any role in kids' decisions to start smoking and second, that parental practices and other social influences, not tobacco industry marketing practices, determine whether youth smoke. Philip Morris, for example, has run television and print advertisements encouraging parents to talk to their kids about not smoking. One of the television ads was launched during this year's Super Bowl.

'This study shows that parents can make a difference in preventing their kids from smoking, but their job is a lot harder with the Marlboro Man sitting across the table,' said William V. Corr, Executive Vice President of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. 'No matter how hard parents try to protect the health of their children, they're fighting to be heard above the multi-billion dollar marketing barrage of the tobacco industry. This study shows why the tobacco companies cannot be taken seriously when they say they do not want kids to smoke and why we need strong government action to protect our kids from the industry's insidious marketing messages.

'We have proven solutions to reduce youth tobacco use; we just need the political will to implement them,' Corr said. 'Congress must pass legislation granting the U.S. Food and Drug Administration effective authority over the manufacturing, marketing and sale of tobacco products, including the authority to restrict marketing that impacts kids. And elected officials in every state should increase cigarette taxes and fully fund comprehensive tobacco prevention programs based on the recommendations of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.'

Legislation to grant the FDA effective authority over tobacco products has been introduced in both the U.S. House and Senate – S. 2626 introduced by Sens. Kennedy (D-MA) and DeWine (R-OH) and H.R. 1097 by Reps. Ganske (R-IA), Dingell (D-MI) and Waxman (R-CA).

The new study is the second in a month showing the influence of tobacco marketing in getting kids to smoke. A study in the June issue of the journal Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine also found that cigarette marketing influences kids to smoke, especially in making non-smoking kids susceptible to experimenting with cigarettes (that study and a press release about it can be found at

Despite promising as part of the 1998 state tobacco settlement to stop targeting kids, the tobacco industry increased their marketing expenditures by 42 percent over the next two years, according to a recent report by the Federal Trade Commission. In 2000, the most recent year tracked by the FTC, the tobacco industry spent a record $9.6 billion – $26 million a day – on marketing. Much of the increase was in retail store marketing effective at reaching kids, include payments to retailers for prime shelf space that makes cigarettes more visible to kids, discount promotions such as 'buy one, get one free' that make cigarettes more affordable to kids, and free gifts such as hats and mini-radios that appeal to kids. Previous studies have shown that 75 percent of adolescents shop at convenience stores at least once a week, and they are more likely than adults to be influenced by convenience store promotions.

Tobacco use is the leading preventable cause of death in the United States, killing more than 400,000 Americans every year. Ninety percent of all smokers start at or before age 18. Every day, 5,000 kids try their first cigarette. Another 2,000 kids become regular, daily smokers, one-third of whom will die prematurely as a result.

Primary Findings and Conclusions of New Study

The study involved 1,641 California adolescents who were surveyed first in 1996, when 12 to 14 years old, and again in 1999. The study's key findings and conclusions include:

  • While kids with more authoritative parents were half as likely to have become smokers than kids with less authoritative parents, those kids from authoritative households who did become smokers were significantly more likely to have been influenced by tobacco marketing. The study estimated that 40 percent of adolescent smoking in families with more authoritative parents was attributable to tobacco advertising and promotions, five times the risk seen in families with less authoritative parents (eight percent).

  • The top two risk factors in determining whether youth became smokers were exposure to friends who smoke and receptivity to tobacco industry advertising and promotions. Good parenting practices were much more effective at shielding kids from having friends who smoke than at shielding them from the influence of tobacco marketing. While adolescents with more authoritative parents were 60 percent less likely to have friends who smoke, they were only 10 percent less likely to be receptive to tobacco industry advertising and promotions (defined as having a favorite cigarette advertisement, being willing to use a tobacco promotional item, or both).

  • Tobacco industry marketing that associates smoking with independence, coolness, fun and risk-taking may have particular influence on adolescents with stricter parents.

(A copy of the new study can be obtained at Please call Joel Spivak or Michael Berman at 202-296-5469 to schedule an interview with the lead researcher, John Pierce, Ph.D., of the Cancer Prevention and Control Program, University of California San Diego.)