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Major Report from U.S. Government Concludes Tobacco Marketing Promotes Youth Smoking

The report says mass media campaigns to educate the public and comprehensive bans on tobacco advertising and promotions are effective at reducing tobacco use.
August 21, 2008

Statement of Matthew L. Myers, President, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids

WASHINGTON, D.C. — A comprehensive report issued today by the U.S-based National Cancer Institute presents definitive conclusions that tobacco marketing increases tobacco use, especially among children.

The report also concludes that mass media campaigns to educate the public and comprehensive bans on tobacco advertising and promotions are effective at reducing tobacco use.

The 684-page report, entitled 'The Role of the Media in Promoting and Reducing Tobacco Use,' is the most comprehensive analysis to date of the scientific evidence on the media's role in encouraging and discouraging tobacco use.

The report is based on a review of more than 1,000 studies worldwide in the fields of marketing, psychology, communications, statistics, epidemiology and public health.

It provides powerful scientific evidence and guidance to governments around the world on how the tobacco industry uses and manipulates the media to encourage tobacco use and effective steps governments can take to protect the health of their citizens.

The report's conclusions should spur nations to effectively implement the World Health Organization's international tobacco control treaty, the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.

The treaty commits nations to implement scientifically proven measures to reduce tobacco use, including comprehensive bans on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorships and well-funded mass media campaigns to educate the public about the dangers of tobacco use.

The report reaches several important conclusions that should guide policy makers worldwide in implementing measures to reduce tobacco use:

  • The scientific evidence shows that tobacco advertising and promotion cause tobacco use to increase, and even a brief exposure to tobacco advertising can influence adolescents. Much tobacco advertising targets the psychological needs of adolescents, such as popularity, peer acceptance and positive self-image.
  • The scientific evidence also shows that exposure to smoking in movies is causally related to youth smoking initiation.
  • Mass media public education campaigns are effective at preventing youth from starting to smoke and encouraging current smokers to quit. However, so-called 'youth smoking prevention campaigns' sponsored by the tobacco industry have been generally ineffective and may actually have increased youth smoking.
  • A comprehensive ban on tobacco advertising and promotion is the most effective way to address the harmful impact of tobacco marketing. Partial bans allow tobacco companies to find new ways to market their products.
  • Tobacco companies seek to weaken public or legislative support for effective tobacco control policies through various media tactics, including corporate sponsorship of events and social causes, corporate image campaigns that highlight their charitable work, and their 'youth smoking prevention campaigns.' The tobacco industry also works to impede tobacco control media campaigns by preventing or reducing their funding or weakening the messages.

This report is very timely as nations implement the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control and step up efforts to combat tobacco use, which the WHO has found is the world's leading cause of preventable death.

Tobacco use killed one hundred million people in the 20th century, and if current trends continue, it will claim one billion lives in the 21st century, according to the WHO.

Tobacco use already kills 5.4 million people a year and the epidemic is worsening, especially in the developing world where more than 80 percent of tobacco-caused deaths will occur in the coming decades.

With 80 percent of smokers beginning as teens, the tobacco industry will continue to place a heavy emphasize on attracting a new generation of smokers.

Every day, 80,000 to 100,000 young people around the world become addicted to tobacco. If current trends continue, 250 million children alive today will die from tobacco-related disease.