Tobacco: Making a Killing: Anti-Tobacco Forces Are Waging War against the Powerful Tobacco Lobby and the Rising Pandemic of Cardiovascular and Other Smoking-Related Diseases in the World

By Perry, Patrick; Braun, Wendy | The Saturday Evening Post, September-October 2002 | Go to article overview

Tobacco: Making a Killing: Anti-Tobacco Forces Are Waging War against the Powerful Tobacco Lobby and the Rising Pandemic of Cardiovascular and Other Smoking-Related Diseases in the World


Perry, Patrick, Braun, Wendy, The Saturday Evening Post


Are hard-hitting graphic ads depicting the ravages of smoking on health making an impact on America's youth? The answer is a resounding "Yes," according to a recent study published in the American Journal of Public Health. The report, based on surveys of roughly 9,000 12-to-17-year-olds, showed that smoking by high-school students dropped to its lowest level in a decade.

That is no small feat, considering that for years tobacco companies have spent billions of dollars developing powerful, sophisticated youth-oriented marketing campaigns to attract a new crop of consumers--American teens. Using comprehensive countermeasures--escalating cigarette taxes, tough antismoking ordinances, smoking bans, and clever anti-tobacco campaigns--public-health officials are gaining ground in the battle against Big Tobacco.

The Post concludes its two-part interview with Dr. Steven Jay, chair of the Department of Public Health at Indiana University School of Medicine. Here we learn more about successful anti-tobacco efforts, smoking cessation, and the future of tobacco control.

Q: In the past, people in cigarette advertising represented robust health, such as the Marlboro Man. Are tobacco ads especially deceptive for the young?

A: The original Marlboro Man died of a tobacco-related disease. It is good to share this fact with young people in discussions about "truth" in advertising. Tobacco ads are effective in linking tobacco use to activities and ideas that appeal to many youth. Themes of sexual identity, health, escape, risk, excitement, antisocial behaviors, stress reduction, companionship, status, positive lifestyle, coping with loneliness, belonging, individuality, and "join the crowd" all pervade tobacco ads. Tobacco companies hire Ph.D.s and spend tens of millions of dollars to find the best strategies to invade the minds of children and teens. Documents obtained through the legal discovery process in tobacco suits have revealed extensive tobacco-company research regarding how preteens and teens might view a tobacco product. The strategy of tobacco-company marketing is to make the sale and se of tobacco products appear much greater than it really is. Today, 75 percent of Americans don't smoke, but if you ask kids, they think 75 percent of people smoke. Slick tobacco marketing works. As a freshman high-school student told me recently, "They wouldn't spend $8 billion a year on advertising if it didn't work."

Q: Do graphic images depicting the ravages of smoking on our health, (used in Canada, the truth campaign, and elsewhere) have an effect on young people?

A: There is good science to show that de-normalization strategies work, particularly for kids. Anything you can do to make smoking appear less sexy, less glamorous, or less prevalent resonates with kids. Young people are not particularly swayed by dire warnings about lung cancer or heart attacks in adult smokers. But they are influenced by the fact that cigarettes result in body odor, wrinkled skin, yellow teeth, foul breath, and impotence. The fact that smoking or using smokeless tobacco causes immediate changes in their bodies and that not using the next cigarette or chew results in immediate improvements in their bodies seem to influence youth attitudes toward tobacco.

Q: Like Brazil putting the "smoking causes sexual impotence" picture photo and warning on their cigarette packs?

A: Exactly. But you have to be cautious and thoughtful about "de-normalizing" tobacco. Adults may not be the best persons to develop these counter-detailing or "de-normalizing" strategies. Teenagers have been highly effective in creating some of the most compelling and effective youth-oriented anti-tobacco ads. They understand the themes that young people may respond to. Studies have shown that the so-called "anti-tobacco ads" of Philip Morris and other companies that tell kids not to smoke are routinely viewed by teens as ineffective. …

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