Cigarette Advertising and their effects to adolescent smokers

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Cigarette Advertising and their effects to adolescent smokers

            In the United States, the use of tobacco is the leading preventable cause of death. Even with this awareness, increased numbers of adolescents still experiment with smoking and the majority will probably establish a lifelong dependence on nicotine. Studies that were carried out a decade ago indicated that thirty six percent of adolescents smoked cigarettes (Kann et al, 1998). This figure may be even higher today. As the habit persists into adulthood, an estimated five million adolescents will eventually succumb to premature death from illnesses related to smoking. The reason why many adolescents begin and continue to smoke remains an important public health issue. Current research indicate that numerous social and psychological factors increase the possibility of an adolescent becoming a smoker. Among the reasons are the positive attitudes and beliefs about smoking that mainly emanating from cigarette advertising.

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            Adolescent smoking practice is strongly influenced by promotional advertising by cigarette manufacturers. Studies indicate that adolescents who often come across tobacco advertisements are more likely to smoke than those who do not (Botvin et al, 1993). The receptivity to such products may also be increased by encountering cigarette advertisements and internalizing their messages. Adolescents that are receptive to cigarette promotional items are more likely to advance into greater levels of smoking than those who are not. Majority of adolescents who experiment with smoking every year in the United States often do so in response to tobacco industry promotional activities.

            There has been some shift in media representation of tobacco since its advertisement was banned from the broadcast media in 1971. Smoking on television has decreased while smoking advertisements in the print media has increased (CDC, 1994). The tobacco companies still appear to have a considerable impact on entertainment and editorial content due to their advertising for cigarettes and other products. Television characters seldom decline to smoke or make derogatory comments about tobacco. The print media on the other hand hardly mention the health risks associated with smoking even if they do not carry advertisements for tobacco. Smoking in films is more common than in actual life with the movie smoking rates not going down. Even in G-rated films that target younger children, smoking is a common phenomenon. A survey carried out a decade ago by Golman et al (1999) discovered that more than fifty percent of the films featured smoking. They sampled children's animated films. A common strategy employed by tobacco companies is product placement which ensures that their products are used by highly visible and admired film stars. With this regard, the dominant image of smoking is the one that tobacco companies create. Smoking is presented as the habit of glamorous, sexually attractive, healthy and active individuals.

            Adolescents have numerous opportunities to watch tobacco advertisements and smoking in the media. These pictures may contribute to tobacco use by leading this population to establish a positive attitude towards smoking. Cigarette companies often place advertisements for youth-oriented brands in magazines that have high adolescent readership. Again, more than twenty five percent of MTV videos include tobacco use. Numerous studies indicate that concerns about the consequences of tobacco advertising on adolescents are not unfounded. The persuasive impact of tobacco advertisement campaigns on adolescent smoking has been assessed by many researchers. The basic argument among some of these researchers is that, for the campaigns to result in smoking there are a number of conditions that have to be satisfied. First, the adolescents must be exposed to the advertisements, attend to and comprehend the messages. They then establish a cognitive or affective response to the message.

            A longitudinal study carried out by Pierce, Choi, Gilpin, Farkas and Berry (1998) of over 1,750 adolescents show that tobacco campaigns are associated with adolescent smoking. Fifty percent of the sample identified a common tobacco advertisement, and majority owned or wanted to own promotional items. These two reactions to tobacco advertisement were associated over time with smoking. Another survey carried out by Sargent and colleagues (2000) reported that adolescents, more than adults, are especially vulnerable to tobacco advertising. Their research focused on both the link between advertising and smoking initiation and the brand choices of existing smokers. They discovered that the choices of brand for adolescent smokers were mainly concentrated in the most widely and heavily advertised brands and that the link between the choice of brand and advertising was stronger among adolescents than in adults. These findings correspond with those of Pierce and his colleagues (1991). The random phone survey carried out by Pierce and his colleagues of over twenty four thousand adults and five thousand adolescent smokers indicated that adolescent smokers were more likely to smoke heavily advertised brands such as Marlboro and Camel than adult smokers. The two research teams concluded that there was a correlation between adolescent smoking and tobacco advertising.

            There are also indications that adolescent females may be uniquely lured to enticements to smoke as they are especially interested in fashion, social desirability, thinness and physical appearance (Kaufman, 1994). Tobacco advertisements associate with all of these aspects. It therefore might not come as a surprise that after several years of decrease in smoking initiation, smoking in underage adolescent girls increased in 1967, the year that saw the beginning of advertisement campaigns targeting women (Pierce, Lee ; Gilpin, 1994). The sale of Camel cigarettes to adolescent smokers also increased. Mayhew and his colleagues (2000) noted that three years after Joe Camel advertising campaign begun, camel's share increased from five percent to thirty two percent of the adolescent market.

            Exposure and attention to tobacco often begins at childhood. It is a fact that exposure to and awareness of tobacco advertisements start before adolescence. In a survey carried out by Fischer and his colleagues (1991), they asked children aged between three and six years to match product logos with brand names. The children were able to readily match children's logos and brands. For instance, ninety percent were able to match the logo and brand for the Disney channel. They also recognized Burger King and McDonald logos. Tobacco logos were less recognizable even though fifty percent of the children managed to match Joe Camel and Camel cigarettes. About thirty three percent identified Marlboro logos. The indication is that advertisements are easily recognized by children and this may later influence their future habits as adolescents.

            It cannot be denied that children are well exposed to tobacco advertising even though the companies often claim that their advertising is exclusively directed on adult smokers. The tobacco industry has designed and placed their advertisements in such a way that they cannot escape the attention of young people. Children at a very young age can match a picture of a cigarette with a cigarette advertisement from which all smoking cues have been removed (Fischer 1989). It is therefore clear that children are exposed to tobacco advertisement and this starts before the actual tobacco use begins. One issue of great concern is the fact that children receive and comprehend the implied messages delivered by tobacco advertisements before they are mature enough to understand the aim of advertisement. This implies that they learn from tobacco advertisements without taking into consideration where the message has come from.

            A strong link exists between exposure to advertising and actual smoking behavior. Children who have come across cigarette advertisements are more likely to smoke than those who have not. The tobacco industry on the other hand argues that smoking causes awareness of advertising rather than the awareness of advertising causing smoking. They hold that in an attempt to find justification for disapproved behavior, adolescent smokers search for advertisements for valid reason to smoke. This however cannot be the case since even among those who do not smoke, children who approve and like cigarette advertisements are more likely to take up the habit in future. Studies also indicate that children who approve of cigarette advertising are more likely to start smoking the following year (Slama, 1995). This means that the impact of tobacco advertising on the mind of the child precede actual tobacco use.

            The more a child becomes familiar and comfortable with tobacco advertisement, the more likely they are to take up the habit. The major question is the how tobacco advertising causes children to use tobacco. This can be answered by looking through the development process. There exist three major developmental tasks of adolescents. These are: developing an identity as a man or woman; establishing independence from the parents; and gaining acceptance of peers and members of the opposite sex. Research that has been funded by tobacco industry has identified these areas of psychological vulnerability among adolescents who are likely to smoke. Advertisements are therefore carefully designed to portray tobacco as offering the answer to the problems associated with adolescence.

            A document prepared for RJR MacDonald tobacco company, “very young starter smokers chose Export A because it provides them with an instant badge of masculinity, appeals to their rebellious nature and establishes their position amongst their peers” (RJR MacDonald, 1977). This company identifies the target group for their brand as people who are extremely influenced by their peer group. These marketing strategies do not make any reference to taste, quality or price of the products but are instead focused on promoting the psychological benefits to be enjoyed by young people who smoke specific brands. The tobacco industry thus appears to know much more about what motivate adolescents to smoke than does the medical community. Not every tobacco advertisement has the capacity to motivate adolescents to smoke. It is however possible to single out those that appeal to the adolescents' need to feel masculine or feminine, independent and popular. Social learning identifies that even socially learned behaviors that can be replicated may not be enacted unless one is motivated. Advertisements thus act as motivational incentives. Images or advertisements of tobacco smoking may attract the attention of adolescents who are interested in knowing about adult behaviors.

            The majority of young people unambiguously understands and accepts the psychological appeals. Young people with favorite cigarette advertisement are more likely to believe that there are benefits associated with smoking. The perceive benefits are those that are portrayed by the advertisements. There are also those adolescents who believe that smoking will make them famous and thus are more likely to smoke. This offers a plausible mechanism of comprehending how advertisement causes children to smoke. Adolescence is one stage where individuals are psychologically vulnerable. With advertisement portraying tobacco to be the solution to the problems confronting the adolescents, there are those who are likely to be convinced and hence take up the habit.


            The tobacco industry spends billions of dollars each year on advertising, marketing and promotion. In 1997 in the United States alone, tobacco companies spent almost six billion dollars on advertising and promotional expenditure. The tobacco industry employs every conceivable method and medium to promote cigarettes. Such includes radio, television, newspapers, internet, magazines and billboards. The companies have undertaken careful studies on the habits, tastes and desires of their potential customers which include children, women and other historically low smoking groups (CDC, 1994). This information is then used to develop products and marketing campaigns that are directed towards this population.

            Young adolescents often seek for independence from their parents and establish separate identities even as they seek approval of their peers. This is part of a natural maturation process. One characteristic of individuation is that the adolescent is motivated to take increasing responsibility for his or her actions and make independent decisions. Research that has been funded by tobacco companies have given these companies a comprehension of this process which has made them to exploit it. Young male smokers often go through a stage where they are seeking to express their independence and individuality. Smoking is thus used as rebellion. Tobacco industry has capitalized on the adolescent motive to individuate especially in their advertisements.

            The majority of independent, peer reviewed studies indicate that advertising results in increased consumption. The financial success of tobacco industry requires that they continue recruiting new smokers following the rate at which their customers either die or quit smoking every year. The logic of tobacco industry dictates that it must find its customers among the young people since studies indicate that the majority of smokers begin the habit in their youth. The main vehicle of accomplishing this is advertisement and promotion. There is minimal doubt that tobacco advertising has a strong effect on adolescents. The above studies indicate that the onset of smoking in adolescents is causally linked to promotional activities. Again, exposure to cigarette advertising predicts smoking among that age group.  Research also indicates that owing to the introduction of brand advertisements that are attractive to adolescents, the use of such advertised brands has increased and so has the overall smoking.

            As more countries ban tobacco advertising, the industry has been creative in finding new ways of publicizing their brands especially with the young population. Such methods include sponsoring teams and sporting events, promoting concerts, printing brand logos on t-shirts and other merchandise popular with the young people among other strategies.

Work Cited

Botvin, G. J., Goldberg, C. J., Botvin, E. M., & Dusenbury, L. Smoking behavior of adolescents             exposed to cigarette advertising. Public Health Reports, 108, 217-224, 1993

Goldman, L. K., & Glantz, S. A. (1998). Evaluation of antismoking advertising campaigns.      Journal of the American Medical Association, 279, 772-777

Kann, L., Kinchen, S. A., Williams, B. I., Ross, J. G., Lowry, R., Hill, C. V., Grunbaum, J. A.,   Blumson, P. S., Collins, J. L., & Kolbe, L. J. . Youth risk behavior surveil-lance—United States, 1997. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, 47, 1-89, 1998

Mayhew, K. P., Flay, B. R., & Mott, J. A. (). Stages in the development of adolescent smoking.            Drug and Alcohol Dependence, 59 (suppl. 1), S61-S81, 2000

Pierce, J. P., Choi, W. S., Gilpin, E. A., Farkas, A. J., & Berry, C. C. Tobacco industry promotion          of cigarettes and adolescent smoking. Journal of the American Medical Association,          279, 511-515, 1998

Sargent, J. D., Dalton, M., Beach, M., Bernhardt, A., Heatherton, T., & Stevens, M. (). Effect of             cigarette promotions on smoking uptake among adolescents. Preventive Medicine, 30,    320-327, 2000

Slama, K. (1995). Tobacco and health. Springer Science & Business

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Preventing tobacco use among young people:            A report of the Surgeon General. Atlanta, GA: USDHHS, Public Health Service, Centers   for Disease Control, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health          Promotion, Office on Smoking and Health, 1994


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