Factors That Influence Adolescents to Smoke

By Smith, Karen H.; Stutts, Mary Ann | The Journal of Consumer Affairs, Winter 1999 | Go to article overview

Factors That Influence Adolescents to Smoke


Smith, Karen H., Stutts, Mary Ann, The Journal of Consumer Affairs


Predictor variables previously examined in separate studies (prior beliefs, peer pressure, family smoking, advertising, and antismoking information) were combined in a single study, surveying 246 adolescents. The variables were round to be significant predictors of smoking level, but the importance of each predictor varied by grade level, gender, and ethnicity. Overall, family smoking behavior, peer pressure, and prior beliefs were more important in predicting smoking level than were advertising and antismoking information. Public policy implications are discussed.

U.S. tobacco companies, especially R. J. Reynolds Tobacco (RJR), have faced and are currently under charges that they intentionally target adolescents as young as fourteen in their advertising campaigns. From 1973 to 1990 R. J. Reynolds produced internal corporate communications and marketing actions that focused on persuading young people to smoke RJR brands, including Camel and Winston, according to a government probe (Mintz and Torry 1998). This finding, among other charges, led the U.S. Government to pursue and settle a lawsuit against tobacco companies. In addition, lawsuits by individual states have been filed to recoup billions of dollars in medical costs to treat tobacco-related diseases. The states of Texas, Florida, Minnesota, and Mississippi settled lawsuits totalling $40 billion to be paid over twenty-five years (Meier 1998).

One result of the recent (1998) settlement of the Government's case against tobacco companies is that the industry must pay $206 billion to forty-six states over twenty-five years to settle lawsuits, including $250 million over ten years to study ways to reduce teen smoking and to meet strict goals for reducing smoking in the U.S. The settlement eliminates billboard ads and brand names in sports stadiums. The tobacco industry is also prohibited from using cartoon characters in tobacco ads, from selling apparel and merchandise with brand name logos, and from placing products in movies or television shows (Meier 1998).

These publicity rulings will reverse recent increases in tobacco publicity. A study of the top-grossing movies from 1960 to 1995 found that the amount of on-screen time for tobacco products significantly increased in the 1990s (Mishra 1998). Part of the blame for this development goes to product placement in television and movie scripts, which provide widespread exposure for a product, such as cigarettes, in exchange for money or free supplies of the product. As tobacco companies faced recent restrictions on the use of traditional media, such as television and outdoor advertising, they expanded into more nontraditional marketing programs, such as event and sports sponsorships (Cornwell 1997). Despite advertising restrictions, bad publicity, and legal setbacks, the tobacco industry still thrives. Tancer (1997, 299) reports that "tobacco generates some $45 billion in profits for the publicly held companies in the U.S."

While the tobacco industry may be thriving, the health and medical costs of smoking are taking a heavy toll on our youth and society in general. It is estimated that mortality in the U.S. due to smoking-related causes includes about 400,000 persons annually (Lesch and MiddendorfBrand 1997; Center for Disease Control's (CDC) Tobacco Info-Overview 1997). The CDC report also states that smoking kills more people each year than does AIDS, alcohol, drug abuse, car crashes, murders, suicides, and fires--combined. The report estimates that tobacco use in the U.S. causes more than $50 billion a year in direct medical costs.

Approximately 80 percent of adult smokers began to smoke before the age of eighteen (CDC's Tobacco Info-Overview 1997). While the number of smoking adults in the U.S. decreased dramatically from 42 percent in 1965 to 26 percent in 1994 (CDC's Tobacco Information and Prevention Sourcepage 1997a), the percentage of teenagers who smoke increased from 27 percent in 1991 to 36 percent in 1997 (Erickson 1998). …

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