Study suggests cigarette companies target youth

December 19, 1999

Cigarette companies have asserted that their youth-oriented advertisements are directed at young adults aged 18 or older rather than at youths aged 10 to 15, but new research suggests otherwise.

For a study period of nearly ten years, popular youth cigarette brands were more likely than adult brands to be advertised in magazines with high youth readerships, researchers from Harvard University and the Boston University School of Public Health found.

"Our findings provide strong new evidence that cigarette brands popular among youth smokers are more likely to advertise in magazines with high levels of youth readership, that this relationship is not explained by levels of young adult readership in the magazines, and that this pattern of advertising persisted throughout at least a nine-year period during the late 1980s and early 1990s," said co-author of the study, Michael Siegel, MD, MPH.

The results of the study conducted by Siegel, of the Boston University School of Public Health, and Charles King III, JD, PhD, of Harvard University, appear in the current issue of Nicotine & Tobacco Research.

King and Siegel assessed 36 magazines published from 1986 to 1994, 15 of which were classified as youth magazines. They found that although youth cigarette brands accounted for only 43 percent of the cigarette advertising pages in adult magazines during the study period, youth brands accounted for nearly 67 percent of the cigarette advertising pages in the youth magazines.

To determine the favored cigarette brands among youths aged 10 to 15, the researchers turned to the 1993 Teenage Attitudes and Practices Survey. Marlboro, Newport, Camel, Kool, and Winston were the most popular youth brands, according to the survey.

Salem, Virginia Slims, Benson & Hedges, Parliament, Merit, Capri, and Kent were the least popular youth brands, smoked by less than 2.5 percent of 10-15 year olds, according to the survey. The researchers categorized these latter brands as adult brands.

Advertising disparities were most obvious in magazines with the highest and lowest percentages of youth readers. Only 22.3 percent of cigarette advertising pages were devoted to youth brands in Woman"s Day, which has an average youth readership of 7.5 percent. But 83.4 percent of all cigarette-advertising pages were devoted to youth brands in Sport, with a youth readership of nearly 40 percent. The three top magazines in terms of youth brand ad pages were all youth magazines: Motor Trend (94.5 percent), Road & Track (92.3 percent), and Hot Rod (91.1 percent).

In their analysis, King and Siegel took into account that the comparatively more legitimate efforts of cigarette companies to market to young adults could conceivably have a "spillover" effect on youths. However, even after accounting for "spillover," King and Siegel still found youth cigarette brands to be significantly more likely than other brands to advertise in magazines with high youth readerships.

"Our study reveals that the tobacco industry engaged in a persistent pattern of advertising to underage youths for nearly a decade," said Siegel. "This finding has important implications for public health policy and for tobacco litigation."

King and Siegel acknowledge the difficulty of proving that cigarette companies intended to target youths, even though the data suggest it. "But, from a public health perspective, what matters is whether adolescents are exposed to cigarette advertising that leads them to begin smoking, whether that exposure was intentional or not," said Siegel.

The research was supported by grants from Harvard Business School and the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.
Nicotine & Tobacco Research is the official peer-reviewed quarterly journal of the Society for Research on Nicotine and Tobacco. For information about the journal, contact Gary E. Swan, PhD, at (650) 859-5322.

Posted by the Center for the Advancement of Health < . For information about the Center, call Petrina Chong, < > (202) 387-2829.

Center for Advancing Health

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