Study Links Cigarette Promotional Gear With Children's Smoking

December 15, 1997

LEBANON, NH--A study of some 1,300 sixth through twelfth graders in New Hampshire and Vermont reveals that one-third of those students own items of the promotional gear that has been heavily hyped by several tobacco companies during the past seven years. The study is published Dec. 15 in Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine.

Tobacco companies, which spend $1.5 billion yearly on promotional gear give-aways, are challenging in federal court Food and Drug Administration regulations prohibiting this type of marketing.

The investigation, led by James D. Sargent, MD, a researcher at the Norris Cotton Cancer Center (at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center) and pediatrician at Children's Hospital at Dartmouth (CHaD), shows a strong relationship between children's tendency to be regular or beginner smokers and ownership of the cigarette logo-emblazoned clothing, backpacks, camping gear and electronics.

"We found that, in effect, children are being used to market cigarettes to their peers," said Dr. Sargent. "Children in sixth grade are in a formative stage, just developing attitudes about whether to smoke and what's in it for them. When children wear these T-shirts, jackets and backpacks with cigarette logos they become promotional tools. It's like having a billboard in your school. We believe that our findings from this study support regulations from the FDA to restrict the distribution of these items by tobacco companies."

Results from the study showed that children who owned promotional items were four times more likely to be smokers than those who did not, even after researchers adjusted their results to take into account the effects of factors such as friends and family smoking. Among children who are not regular smokers, ownership of gear is associated with higher levels of smoking uptake, which predicts likelihood of becoming a regular smoker in the future.

Researchers found that even though only five percent of children in the schools were actually wearing an article of clothing with a cigarette logo on the day of the survey, 40 percent of children reported seeing a cigarette promotional item on the same day. This finding points to the high visibility and strong messages sent by the items. Marlboro, followed by Camel, comprised the most commonly reported brands on student-owned cigarette promotional items, 60 percent and 30 percent respectively.

"The most concerning finding from this study is that ownership of these items is associated not just with being a smoker, but with higher risk of becoming a smoker in the future," said Sargent. This suggests that promotional items play a role in the smoking initiation process among younger children. "Peer cigarette promotion appears to be a powerful pro-smoking message to children. This study offers compelling reasons to oppose this marketing tactic. The tactic actually may be more successful for cigarette companies in appealing to children than traditional advertising such as the Joe Camel character."

The Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth

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