June 13, 2017
2 min read

Teen interest in tobacco ads linked to increased risk of future smoking

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Among teenagers aged 12 to 13 years who had never used tobacco products, 41% expressed either interest or familiarity with a series of tobacco-related advertisements, receptivity that was correlated with a higher susceptibility for future cigarette smoking.

“At the height of popular cigarette marketing campaigns in the 1990s — Joe Camel, Marlboro Miles — more than half of California adolescents indicated a favorite cigarette advertisement and this higher level of receptivity was associated with later cigarette smoking,” John P. Pierce, PhD, professor emeritus in the department of family medicine and public health at the University of California San Diego and Moores Cancer Center, and colleagues wrote.

John P. Pierce, PhD
John P. Pierce

Pierce and colleagues also noted the lack of research in this topic, with no known research available regarding estimates for aided recall of advertisements or ads for a product category involving all available tobacco advertising with a substantial group of participants.

To measure the effect of advertising for multiple tobacco products in relation to their hypothesized association with future cigarette smoking for adolescents, the researchers interviewed 10,751 American teenagers who had never used tobacco. Five randomly selected, stratified advertisements of 959 recent ad campaigns were presented to teenagers concerning cigarettes, e-cigarettes, smokeless products and cigars.

If the participants needed assistance recalling the advertisement, they were associated with low receptivity. Conversely, if they liked a specific image or had a favorite ad, they were labelled as having a higher receptivity.

In addition to 12- and 13-year-olds showing increased receptiveness to tobacco advertisements (41%), half of older adolescents were receptive to at least one ad presented. E-cigarettes demonstrated the highest receptiveness across all age groups (28%-33%), with the highest recall observed in relation to television advertisements. Cigarettes (22-25%), smokeless tobacco (15-21%) and cigars (8-13%) followed.

E-cigarette advertising was also favored by teens who were considered cigarette susceptible (39.7%) as opposed to cigarette advertising (31.7%). Each advertisement in which a teen was considered receptive increased their risk for future cigarette smoking. No significant difference was found regarding the product advertised.

“[This evidence] is consistent with the idea that tobacco industry advertising builds a general interest in tobacco use — cigarette smoking, in particular — in addition to any effect in encouraging the use of a particular product brand,” Pierce and colleagues wrote. “In addition, because youth receptivity to tobacco product marketing may be driven by product, brand and ad-level factors, research identifying the most critical factors will be important to inform regulatory policy.” — by Katherine Bortz

Disclosure: The researchers report no relevant financial disclosures.