Teens are at especially high risk of starting to smoke product advertisements and viewing such ads alone is guaranteed to start more youths on this deadly habit.
Authors of a new study published online this week in the Pediatrics journal state:
"Our results support the notion of a content-related effect of cigarette advertisements and underlines the specificity of the relationship between tobacco marketing and teen smoking; exposure to cigarette advertisements, but not other advertisements, is associated with smoking initiation."
Scientists from Institute for Therapy and Health Research in Kiel, Germany, and colleagues examined the results from a longitudinal survey of 2,102 adolescents aged 10 to 17 who had never smoked. After exposure to advertisements for six brands of cigarettes and eight commercial products at different frequencies, it was revealed that 13% of adolescents had started to smoke after nine months time.
Most smokers take up smoking before the age of 18. Children whose parents or siblings smoke are around three times more likely to smoke than children living in non-smoking households.
Although around 60% of teenagers report that they have never smoked, among those who do experiment with smoking many become addicted to nicotine and continue to smoke as adults.
The effectiveness of youth-focused health education is limited and at best appears to delay the age of starting to smoke. It appears that the best way of reducing youth smoking is to have comprehensive tobacco control policies in place that apply to the whole population.
Exposure to other advertisements, for products, such as sweets, clothes, and mobile telephones, did not predict smoking initiation. High exposure to cigarette advertising remained a significant predictor of smoking initiation even after controlling for other factors.
The study's authors continue:
"The study results support the notion of a content-related effect of cigarette advertisements and underline the specificity of the relationship between tobacco marketing and teen smoking initiation."
Tobacco companies such as British American Tobacco, the producer of Dunhill cigarettes and Philip Morris, the producer of Virginia cigarettes and Marlboro cigarettes have adopted a public posture of opposition to teenage smoking and even funded anti-smoking initiatives for teenagers. But an investigation by the Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) which is based in the United Kingdom, and The Cancer Research Campaign, has revealed that this is no more than a public relations strategy. The purpose is to fend off meaningful restrictions on tobacco advertising and gain PR advantage, while proposing only measures that are unlikely to reduce youth smoking and likely make it more attractive by positioning cigarettes as an adult product and smoking as rebellious.
Virtually all tobacco advertising is now illegal in the UK and many other countries. The Tobacco Advertising & Promotion Act 2002 came into force in November 2002 in the UK, with most advertising ending on 14th February 2003 and a gradual fade out for the rest by July 2005.
Since the implementation of the final stage of the tobacco advertising ban in 2005, ASH has carefully monitored the situation to try and stop any direct or indirect breaches of the law.
Tobacco companies have concentrated sponsorship on successful, high-profile sports in order to ensure maximum coverage for their products. These sports are extremely attractive to sponsors and other companies have gradually replaced sponsorship from tobacco companies without difficulty. Even Formula One, the sport most reliant on tobacco, announced in 1998 that it would replace its tobacco sponsorship within four years.
Tobacco is a unique consumer product as there is no safe level of use and half of all life-long smokers die prematurely from smoking-related diseases. Despite the harm caused by smoking, tobacco products are largely unregulated while medicinal nicotine used as an aid to stop smoking is very tightly controlled.