A new study out of Germany shows that tobacco marketing entices teens to smoke.
Of the 2,102 public school students in Germany surveyed, 277 young people who had never smoked before took up the habit after viewing tobacco advertising. Those who saw the most ads were 46% more likely to try cigarettes than those who saw no tobacco ads, according to the research.
Study co-author Dr. James D. Sargent, a professor of pediatrics and family and community medicine at Dartmouth Medical Center in New Hampshire, says the findings add weight to the idea of having the U.S. Food and Drug Administration better control tobacco marketing. Although ads for cigarettes are prohibited in the U.S., tobacco companies are still targeting teens with other forms of marketing, critics of the tobacco industry suggest.
Sargent, who has done extensive research on the influence of media on teen behaviors, worked with German researchers to produce the study, published online Jan. 17 in advance of print publication in the February issue of Pediatrics.
Students involved in the study ranged from ages 10 to 17, with an average age of 12.5 years, when the study began. They were shown 12 ads with branding removed -- six for cigarettes and six for other products, including candy, cars and cell phones. They were asked to identify the product advertised and recall the brand if they could.
After nine months, 13% of the students who had seen tobacco ads began smoking. The more ads they saw, the more likely they were to start smoking, the study found. Nineteen percent of teens in the high-cigarette ad recall group started smoking compared to 10% in the low-cigarette ad exposure group.
Ads for other products such as cell phones and candies fail to trigger the same psychological mechanisms that make children take up the smoking habit, according to the study.
"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," the authors write. "Exposure to cigarette advertisements but not other advertisements is associated with smoking initiation."
The researchers say tobacco ads work because companies aim their messages at young people, who are particularly susceptible to even subtle meanings, such as hints that smoking is tied to masculinity in the case of males and to thinness, sex appeal and independence for girls.
"Adolescents are in the process of identity formation, when they face emotional instability and social self-consciousness," according to the study.