Cigarette ads may lure teens to smoke: study

Tue Jan 18, 2011 11:23pm EST
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NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - Teenagers who frequently encounter the Marlboro man, or other familiar icons of the tobacco and cigarette industry, may be more likely to be lured into lighting up, according to a study.

Nearly a quarter of all high school students in the United States smoke cigarettes, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Of these, nearly a third will continue smoking and die early from a smoking-related disease.

Though cigarette advertisements have been tied to teen smoking before, the study -- which appeared in Pediatrics -- showed that tobacco ads have an impact even when other advertising doesn't.

There had been speculation that previous studies had simply identified teenagers who were receptive to all kinds of behavioral prompts, such as advertising in general, said James Sargent of Dartmouth Medical School in Hanover, New Hampshire, who took part in the study along with German researchers.

"This study shows that it is the specific images from tobacco ads that predict smoking and not such a character trait," he told Reuters Health in an email.

Sargent and his colleagues surveyed 2,100 teens aged 10 to 17 who had never smoked, showing them billboard advertisements for six different cigarettes and eight other commercial products, with all brand information removed.

Each teen was then asked how often they had seen each image and if they could identify the represented brand.

During the following nine months, about 13 percent of the teens began smoking.

The top third of teens in terms of exposure to advertisements and brand recognition had nearly a 50 percent greater risk of lighting up, on average, compared to teens in the bottom third.   Continued...