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New Study Finds Tobacco Industry “Prevention” Ads Don’t Work and Encourage Kids to Smoke

Industry Should Pull Ads and States Should Fund Real Tobacco Prevention Statement of William V. Corr Executive Director, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
November 01, 2006

Washington, DC — A new study published online today by the American Journal of Public Health (AJPH) finds that the tobacco industry’s television ads purporting to discourage youth smoking are ineffective at best and that the industry’s ads targeted at parents actually encourage kids to smoke. Following a federal judge’s ruling in August that the tobacco companies have lied – and continue to lie – about the health risks of their products and their marketing to children, this study is another reminder that the tobacco companies have not changed and continue to mislead the public at every turn. These ads are clearly intended to clean up the industry’s image, not to reduce youth smoking.

This rigorous and carefully controlled study finds that the industry’s “prevention” ads targeted at youth are ineffective and do not change smoking outcomes, while industry ads targeted at parents increase the likelihood that kids will smoke. Among 10th and 12th graders, higher exposure to the parent-targeted ads was associated with lower perceived harm of smoking, stronger approval of smoking, stronger intentions to smoke in the future, and a greater likelihood of having smoked in the past 30 days.

In light of the study’s findings, the tobacco companies – and in particular Philip Morris, which has run the most ads – should immediately stop their phony prevention programs. Philip Morris and the other tobacco companies should just stay away from our children.

This study is also a wakeup call to the states that they need to fund real tobacco prevention programs rather than let the tobacco companies manipulate our kids with their phony ads. Most states have failed to adequately fund such programs despite the fact that they collect more than $21 billion a year in revenue from the 1998 state tobacco settlement and tobacco taxes and there is conclusive evidence that real prevention programs work. In Fiscal Year 2006, only four states funded such programs at even minimum levels recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, while 35 states provided less than half the CDC minimum or no funding at all.

In stark contrast to the findings of the new AJPH study, a July 2005 study using the same methodology and published in the journal Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine found that state-sponsored tobacco prevention media campaigns ARE effective at reducing smoking. This earlier study found that youth exposed to state campaigns are MORE likely to perceive harm from smoking, MORE likely to say they would NOT smoke in the future and LESS likely to have smoked in the past 30 days. States such as Maine and Washington that have adequately funded tobacco prevention programs have reduced smoking by more than 60 percent among some age groups. So the states lack excuses for their failure to better fund such programs.

The new AJPH study also sends a timely warning to voters in the seven states that will vote next Tuesday on ballot initiatives to increase tobacco taxes, fund tobacco prevention programs, and require smoke-free workplaces and public places. Just as they have sought to mislead the public with their fake prevention programs and other deceptive tactics, the tobacco companies are now spending tens of millions of dollars to mislead voters and defeat these ballot initiatives. Voters should reject their deception and approve these initiatives in Arizona, California, Florida, Missouri, Nevada, Ohio and South Dakota

The AJPH study analyzed data collected in the United States from 1999 to 2002, a period when Philip Morris and Lorillard were broadcasting youth-targeted “prevention” ads and Philip Morris was broadcasting parent-targeted ads. While the youth-targeted ads are no longer being aired in the U.S., Philip Morris has recently broadcast these ads in other countries, and Philip Morris continues to air parent-targeted ads in the U.S. The tobacco companies’ so-called “prevention” programs have also included radio and magazine ads and materials distributed to medical offices, schools and civic organizations. The tobacco companies should immediately terminate all of these programs, and schools and other organizations currently involved with these programs should cease their participation.

The new study is the first to examine how youth are affected by parent-targeted ads sponsored by the tobacco industry. The researchers used Nielsen Media Research television ratings data to measure youth exposure to the tobacco industry’s youth and parent-targeted television ads. They then compared these levels of exposure to youth smoking attitudes and behavior as measured by school surveys of 8th, 10th and 12th graders conducted as part of the federal government’s annual Monitoring the Future survey. The final sample size for the study was 103,172 students. The researchers adjusted their analysis for factors other than tobacco company prevention ads that might have had an effect on youth smoking, including smoke-free laws, cigarette prices and other TV advertising about not smoking.

The study was conducted by researchers at Bridging the Gap, a policy research program based at the University of Illinois at Chicago and the University of Michigan. The National Cancer Institute, the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation funded the study. The study will also appear in the December print edition of the American Journal of Public Health.