Study Snuffs Tobacco Company's Claims

The Register Guard (Eugene, OR), December 16, 2006 | Go to article overview
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Study Snuffs Tobacco Company's Claims

Byline: Greg Bolt The Register-Guard

A study by an Oregon State University researcher and his colleagues suggests that anti-smoking ads paid for by the tobacco industry and targeted at youth and their parents not only don't work but might actually encourage teens to smoke.

Brian Flay, a professor in OSU's department of public health, was one of nine researchers who studied tobacco industry ads aimed at preventing youth smoking and said that at best they don't have any effect. And he said some, particularly those aimed at parents, had the opposite effect.

"It actually encourages it, especially when kids see those ads targeted to parents," Flay said. "If they see those, there's a 12 percent increase in the likelihood they'll become smokers."

That's a conclusion that is strongly contested by cigarette maker Philip Morris USA, which says it not only has spent $1 billion to develop and disseminate effective advertising aimed at deterring youth smoking but also has research that shows that it works. It says the ads are based on widely accepted research and don't carry any hidden messages.

"There's nothing in our research that raises the concerns indicated in the study," said David Sutton, a spokesman for the company. "Our research shows that what we're doing is the right approach, it's effective with parents and kids are not taking away any unintended messages."

The new study appears in this month's issue of the American Journal of Public Health. The lead author is Melanie Wakefield of the Center for Behavioral Research in Cancer in Melbourne, Australia.

Researchers surveyed more than 100,000 youths in grades eight, 10 and 12 and focused on anti-smoking campaigns by Philip Morris that ran from 1999 to 2003. It used Nielsen Media Research data to determine the prevalence of anti-smoking ads and surveys conducted by schools to determine youth attitudes and perceptions about smoking during that period.

The ads aimed at youths used the slogan "Think. Don't smoke" and told teens that they didn't have to smoke to fit in. Those targeting parents urged them to talk with their children about the hazards of smoking using the slogan "Talk. They'll listen."

Flay said researchers were immediately skeptical of the industry campaign, if only because of its history of covering up and lying about the detrimental health effects of smoking. But this was the first time anyone has tried to measure the effect of youth- and parent-targeted anti-smoking advertising by tobacco companies.

Earlier research on anti-smoking ads sponsored by states and the American Legacy Foundation showed that those efforts helped deter youth smoking. The foundation is a national anti-smoking group funded with proceeds from the massive settlement that ended lawsuits brought by the states against tobacco companies.

But industry ads seem to have the opposite of their intended effect, Flay said. Those aimed directly at youth resulted in a 3 percent stronger intention to smoke among all age groups, and those aimed at parents but watched by their children resulted in a 12 percent increase in the likelihood that 10th- and 12th-graders would become smokers.

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