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Study: Tobacco Marketing Promotes Cigarette Use in Youth

Aug 25, 2008 | Parker Waichman LLP

According to a massive study just released by the US National Cancer Institute, mass media has the power to encourage and discourage tobacco use, especially among young people.  "This is the first report to conclude that tobacco advertising and promotion increases tobacco use," said Melanie Wakefield, senior scientific editor of the nearly 700-page report entitled, The Role of the Media in Promoting and Reducing Tobacco Use.  "It's the first report to make the conclusion that there is a causal relationship between exposure to depiction of smoking in the movies and youth beginning to smoke," she said.  "Mass media can change youth attitudes about tobacco use," Wakefield said.  In a press conference in Washington, DC.

According to Wakefield, the report took four years to compile, involved expert analysis from 23 authors, input from numerous other experts, and analysis of over 1,000 scientific studies on the role of media in encouraging and discouraging tobacco use.  The report found that media play a key role in shaping knowledge, opinions, attitudes, and behaviors among people and within communities, that "Cigarettes are one of the most heavily marketed products in the United States."  US obacco manufacturers spent about $250 billion—in 2006 dollars—between 1940 and 2005 on cigarette advertising and promotion, with most funding assigned to promotions, such as price discounts, which are considered to be very attractive to the youth demographic.  The study also found that big tobacco entices consumer with these themes: Tobacco provides satisfaction, tobacco’s dangers are not a cause for concern, and tobacco is associated with desirable outcomes, i.e., social success.  Additionally, the report stated that a causal relationship exists between tobacco promotion and ads and increased tobacco use and also that smoking is still pervasive in movies, occurring on at least three-quarters or more of contemporary box-office hits; such exposure leads to more youth smoking.

According to statistics from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the report authors said cigarette smoking is responsible for over 400,000 premature deaths annually, and reduces the life expectancy of smokers by an average of 14 years.  "The report stops at synthesizing the evidence," Wakefield said. "Now it is up to the government to consider the evidence and think about what it needs to do in terms of advertising and promotion."  While the report was released by the U.S. National Cancer Institute, "other nations will take note of this report," she said.

William Corr, executive director of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, who also spoke at the press conference, said: "This report sends an unmistakable message to our elected officials that they can dramatically reduce tobacco use by children and by adults by passing legislation that would authorize the Food and Drug Administration to regulate tobacco products and by adequately funding their state prevention and cessation programs."  In July, the U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation that would subject the tobacco industry to federal regulation, including granting the FDA the power to regulate tobacco products. The Senate has yet to act on a similar measure.


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