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Home > Research Articles > Industry: anti-smoking ads make kids smoke

Reuters Health

Sunday, June 2, 2002

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Advertisements launched by the tobacco industry to limit teen smoking may actually make them want to smoke more, researchers and anti-smoking activists said on Wednesday. The ads seem to appeal to the contrary nature of many teens, and are "distinctly counter" to expert findings that directly telling teens not to smoke only encourages them, a report published in the American Journal of Public Health finds. They urged Philip Morris Cos Inc. to drop its "Think. Don't Smoke" campaign, and said their own approach seemed to work better to discourage adolescents from smoking. "The Philip Morris campaign is only intensifying the tobacco epidemic the country finds itself in today, and we will continue to work with (the American Legacy Foundation) and others to address this important public health issue," Dr. Mohammad Akhter, executive director of American Public Health Association, which publishes the journal, said in a statement. Philip Morris said it would consider the criticisms. "Philip Morris U.S.A.'s Youth Smoking Prevention department will review the study and supporting data and then seek a meeting with the American Legacy Foundation to learn more about their methodology and conclusions as well as to discuss ways we can work together toward our common goal of preventing youth smoking," Howard Willard, senior vice president for youth smoking prevention at the company, said in a statement. "We are very interested in reviewing the American Legacy Foundation's study to see if any changes to our approach are warranted." SURVEY OF 18,000 TEENS The researchers, led by Matthew Farrelly at the Research Triangle Institute in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina, surveyed nearly 18,000 young men and women aged 12 to 24 in late 1999 and early 2000. Philip Morris's "Think. Don't Smoke" campaign began in 1998, and the American Legacy Foundation's "Truths" campaign had been running for 10 months. The "Truths" campaign seemed to be working, the researchers said. "Whereas exposure to the 'Truths' campaign positively changed youths' attitudes toward tobacco, the Philip Morris campaign had a counterproductive influence," they wrote. "Philip Morris's 'Think. Don't Smoke' effort parades as a youth anti-smoking campaign, but it's really a wolf in sheep's clothing," Cheryl Healton, president and chief executive officer of Legacy, said. "Philip Morris should pull its 'Think. Don't Smoke' ads off the air." William Corr, executive vice president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, added, "Instead of reducing youth smoking, they insidiously encourage kids to use tobacco and become addicted Philip Morris customers." Legacy was founded with funds from the tobacco industry as part of the $246 billion 1998 agreement between states and tobacco companies they were suing. Its "Truths" campaign included a television ad in which a man-sized rat crawls from the subway to make the point that rat poison and cigarettes both contain cyanide. And the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention credits the campaign, along with tighter laws restricting children's access to tobacco and higher taxes on cigarettes, with cutting teen smoking rates. It says less than 29% of high school students admitted they had smoked in the previous month in 2001, down from 34.8% in 1999. The Federal Trade Commission reported this month that the six largest cigarette manufacturers spent $9.57 billion on advertising and promotions in 2000, a 16.2% increase over 1999. Copyright © 2001 Reuters Limited. All rights reserved. Republication or redistribution of Reuters content, including by framing or similar means, is expressly prohibited without the prior written consent of Reuters. Reuters shall not be liable for any errors or delays in the content, or for any actions taken in reliance thereon. Reuters and the Reuters sphere logo are registered trademarks and trademarks of the Reuters group of companies around the world.