Cigarette marketing can undermine good parenting

July 16, 2002

Cigarette advertising and promotions are most likely to lure teens whose parents follow otherwise well-proven methods for discouraging risky behavior, according to a new study.

Although teens with less authoritative parents are generally more likely to start smoking, they are not as swayed by cigarette advertising and promotions as are their peers raised by more authoritative parents, says the study in the August issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

"It is possible that adolescents whose parents strive to keep them from engaging in risk behaviors, such as smoking, comprise a high-yield market segment for the tobacco industry. If true, it would appear that cigarette advertising and promotion strategies are designed to undermine recommended parenting practices," says John P. Pierce, Ph.D., of the University of California-San Diego.

Parents who are more authoritative are considered to be those who actively involve themselves in their teens' lives, both in listening to the teens and telling them when they did a good job. These parents also generally know where their teens are when they are not at home.

These parenting practices have been shown in previous studies to help children resist risky behaviors, such as smoking. In contrast, less authoritative parents are often emotionally and physically unavailable to their children.

However, promotional marketing strategies that offer customers additional free items with their purchase of cigarettes seem to sway teenagers, circumventing the protective effects of authoritative parenting, the researchers note.

"[The fact] that tobacco-industry marketing activity is growing so rapidly in the area of incentives-to-merchants and retail-value-added strategies must be a cause for concern to the public health community. These marketing actions directly contradict the much-publicized claim that the tobacco industry does not want kids to smoke," they say.

The study included surveys with 1,641 adolescents in 1996 and then again in 1999. The teens were between the ages of 12 and 14 and were nonsmokers during the first survey.

Teens answered questions about their parents' involvement to assess whether they had more or less authoritative parents. The teenagers also answered questions to assess their receptivity to cigarette marketing, such as what their favorite cigarette ad was or whether they would use cigarette companies' promotional items. They were assessed for smoking status at the three-year follow-up survey in 1999.

Overall, the teenagers from more authoritative households were half as likely to have started smoking between the first and second interviews. Twenty percent of these teens were smoking at the follow-up survey, compared with 41 percent of the teens from less authoritative households.

However, children who had more authoritative parents and were receptive to cigarette marketing were as much as three-and-a-half times more likely to start smoking than teens raised under a similar parenting style but who were not as susceptible to tobacco ads and promotions, the researchers found. In contrast, children with less authoritative parents were no more or less likely to start smoking based on their affinity for tobacco marketing.

The marketing themes of tobacco ads, such as independence, coolness, fun, imagination, sex, risk-taking and excitement, may be less "novel, salient and relevant" to children of less authoritative parents, says Pierce.

Pierce says parents may be able to diminish the influence these advertising and promotional strategies have on their children by actively discussing with their teenagers how marketing works, putting the teens on their guard against the message to smoke, he says.

"It is possible that parents have not realized the power of these marketing practices on their adolescents," the researchers add.

The study was funded in part by the California Department of Health Services, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of California Tobacco-Related Disease Research Program.
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Health Behavior News Service: (202) 387-2829 or www.hbns.org.
Interviews: Contact Nancy Stringer, (619) 543-6163
American Journal of Preventive Medicine: Contact the editorial office at (619) 594-7344.

Center for Advancing Health

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