US youth exposed to pro-tobacco ads despite sweeping restrictions

MUMBAI: A new research report from the American Legacy Foundation reveals that American youth continue to be widely exposed to pro-tobacco messages. This is going on despite restrictions placed on the advertising and promotion of tobacco products to minors following the 1998 Master Settlement Agreement (MSA).



As a result of the MSA, the industry had promised not to take any action, directly or indirectly, to target youth in the advertising, promotion, or marketing of tobacco products. The report First Look 12 has documented the results from three waves of the Legacy Media Tracking Survey (LMTS) to determine trends in exposure to tobacco advertising. Findings demonstrate that while there has been a decline in awareness of pro-tobacco messages in print advertising during the past several years, 29 per cent of youth aged 12-14, 36.9 per cent of youth aged 15-17 and 39.9 per cent of young adults aged 18-24 had seen tobacco advertisements in the past month. These findings are not surprising when one considers that the tobacco industry spent a record $11.2 billion on marketing in 2001, a 67 per cent increase from 1998 levels.

During the past five years, there has been a shift from advertising to promotions (for example, coupons, two-for-one deals, free gifts with the purchase of cigarettes) and youth remain highly aware of print, retail and promotional item advertising. Magazine and newspaper advertisements, posters and displays in retail outlets, and promotional activities in "adult-only" establishments (bars or clubs) are still legal marketing channels for the tobacco industry.

A disturbing find is that the American youth are up to three times more receptive to tobacco advertising than adults. It is therefore understandable that 75 per cent of middle school smokers and 85 percent of high school smokers prefer the three most heavily advertised brands of cigarettes -- Marlboro, Camel and Newport. Among younger and older teens, Marlboro and Camel ads were overwhelmingly the favourites among Whites, Hispanics and Asian/Pacific Islanders.

Among young teens (ages 12-14), females are more likely than males to be aware of pro-tobacco print advertising. In addition, teens are highly aware of tobacco advertising in magazines, and youth who are receptive to these messages are more likely to begin smoking in the future. About 2,000 young people aged 12-17 began to smoke daily in 2001. One-third of adolescents who smoke will eventually die of a smoking-related disease.

As the tobacco industry has moved beyond some of the traditional advertising mediums, the Internet has emerged as a viable platform for tobacco companies to market their products without traditional regulatory limitations. Self-reported exposure to tobacco advertising on the Internet found that an average of 6.6 percent of young teens and 5.8 per cent of older teens saw at least one tobacco ad in the past month. These numbers are significantly greater than the 3.6 per cent of young adults who reported exposure.

In addition to the Internet, young people are exposed to pro-tobacco messages through television and the movies. Although the tobacco companies had agreed to a voluntary ban on tobacco product placements in movies in 1989 tobacco use in feature films was much higher in 2000 than in 1960. In 2001, more than half of all teens reported having seen smoking on television during the week prior to being interviewed, while fewer young adults reported the same.

American Legacy Foundation CEO Dr. Cheryl Healton was quoted in an official release saying, "Public health advocates have long recognised the influence advertising and product placement has had in glamourising smoking to young people -- both in retail and in entertainment venues. For this very reason, the MSA restricted the marketing of tobacco to American's youth. This new data demonstrates that tobacco advertising is nonetheless reaching teens and we must do more to de-glamourise smoking in this demographic."

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