Current Health 2, a Weekly Reader publication, April-May 2002 v28 i8 p6(7)

How tobacco ads target teens; tobacco companies spend millions of dollars on advertising to hook more smokers. Here's what you should know to avoid the lure of tobacco. (focus). (Cover Story) Kathiann M. Kowalski.

Full Text: COPYRIGHT 2002 Weekly Reader Corp.

"No Boundaries. No Bull," reads the full-page cigarette ad in a recent issue of Rolling Stone. The tobacco company and its ad agency would say the rebellious tone of the in-your-face ad is not aimed at teens. But the magazine sits on the shelves of an Ohio public library's young adult/teen section. And the same issue carries a full-page ad for candy.

Coincidence? Probably not.

Crafty marketing? Almost certainly.


For decades, tobacco companies have focused marketing efforts on teens. Why? Because companies want to replace older smokers who die from tobacco-related illnesses. As a 1981 Philip Morris document said, "Today's teenager is tomorrow's potential regular customer, and the overwhelming majority of smokers first begin to smoke while in their teens."

Relatively few people start smoking or switch brands after age 18. So tobacco companies developed ad campaigns to lure teens. Themes included rugged independence, freedom, popularity, individuality, social acceptance, and carefree fun. Giveaways and promotional products became popular too. All these youth-appealing themes are still prominent in tobacco marketing.

In 1998, 46 states and the four major tobacco companies agreed to settle lawsuits for billions of dollars in tobacco-related health costs. The tobacco companies promised they would not "take any action, directly or indirectly, to target youth ... in the advertising, promotion, or marketing of tobacco products."

The very next year, however, the money tobacco companies spent on magazine ads shot up 33 percent to $291.1 million. Sixty percent of that went for ads in youth-oriented magazines. Those magazines have at least 15 percent or 2 million readers ages 12 to 17. In 2000, magazine ad spending dropped back near presettlement levels to $216.9 million. Spending for youth-oriented magazine ads was still 59 percent. Tobacco ads in adult magazines such as Time reach many teens too. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that tobacco advertising reaches more than 80 percent of teens.

"They're being heavily targeted by the industry," says Dr. Michael Siegel at Boston University's School of Public Health. "They need to resist and rebel against the tobacco industry's attempt to recruit them as essentially lifelong customers."

Dr. Siegel and his colleagues have documented tobacco marketing's success with teens. With cigarettes costing $3 or more per pack, price should play a big role in consumer choices. But the most popular brands among teens are the ones most heavily advertised.

Similarly, African-American teens tend to use the menthol brands advertised most in ethnically oriented magazines. "It's hard to explain the brand preferences of African-American youth on the basis of any factor other than advertising," notes Dr. Siegel.

Even "anti-smoking" ads sponsored by the industry can give the opposite message. Some ads funded by tobacco companies stress how conscientious storeowners don't sell tobacco to underage buyers. An implicit message is that smoking is a "grown-up" thing. However, three-fourths of adults don't smoke. Likewise, ads about good works by "the people at" a large tobacco company ignore the disease, pain, and suffering caused by their products.

In Logan, Utah, a tobacco company gave away book covers that said, "Think. Don't Smoke." But, the word "don't" was a different color, notes 18-year-old Marin Poole, "So THINK SMOKE stood out." One design featured an angry snowboarder. "The snowboard looked like a lit match, and the clouds looked more like smoke than clouds," Marin says. Her campaign to get the book covers out of Logan High School, plus other anti-smoking efforts, earned her the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids' 2001 Youth Advocate of the Year award for the western region.

Cynthia Loesch won the award for the eastern region. In 1998, her group persuaded a major Boston newspaper to stop accepting tobacco ads. Cynthia continues to educate people--both adults and youth--about tobacco. "It's a fact that cigarettes do absolutely nothing for you, and all they lead to is illnesses and eventually death," says Cynthia.


Stars smoking in films or off-screen include Leonardo Di Caprio, Neve Campbell, Sylvester Stallone, Gillian Anderson, Ashley Judd, Sean Penn, John Travolta, and more. In a recent Dartmouth University study, young people were 16 times more likely to use tobacco if their favorite actor did. In another Dartmouth study, middle school students allowed to watch R-rated films (more inclined to show smoking and drinking) were five times more likely to try cigarettes and alcohol than those whose parents wouldn't let them watch R-rated films.

Even G, PG, and PG-13 movies often show tobacco use. In The Muppet Movie, for example, three cigar-smoking humans interacted with the Muppets.

"When movie stars are smoking in their movies or in front of young people, they're almost just as responsible as the tobacco industry is for addicting young people," maintains 17-year-old Shannon Brewer, the 2001 National Youth Advocate of the Year for the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. "Whether or not they use it all the time, it's an influence on kids because it's saying that's what it takes in order to be that star."

Of course, not all actors smoke--and some take a stand against tobacco and other drugs. Actor Jeremy London, model Christy Turlington, and various other celebrities, for example, work with the CDC, American Lung Association, or Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids to present positive role models.

Yet too many moviemakers use cigarettes and cigars as quick cliche props. "If they're creative producers and directors, they should be able to portray attractive characters through other means," challenges Dr. Siegel.


Very few legal products are deadly when used as directed. Tobacco, however, is America's No. 1 killer. According to the CDC, 430,000 Americans die each year from tobacco-related causes. Inhaled smoke and chewed tobacco directly affect the user. Secondhand smoke affects people who live, work, or socialize with smokers.

Nicotine is tobacco's addictive "hook." At least 63 of the other 4,000 chemicals in tobacco cause cancer, according to the American Lung Association. The list of toxic ingredients also includes tar, carbon monoxide, arsenic, hydrogen cyanide, acetylene, benzene, and formaldehyde.

Lung cancer and cancers of the stomach, pancreas, mouth, throat, and esophagus are all linked to tobacco. Tobacco also kills by causing heart attacks, strokes, and other circulatory diseases.

Besides direct deaths, tobacco makes people more susceptible to bronchitis, pneumonia, asthma, and other illnesses. Tobacco reduces lung capacity and impairs an athlete's performance. Smoking during pregnancy increases risks of miscarriage, premature birth, and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

Tobacco messes with your mind too. Some teen smokers say smoking relaxes them. But researcher Andy Parrott at the University of East London found that teen smokers' stress levels increased as regular smoking patterns developed. Any perceived relaxation was just temporary relief of nicotine withdrawal between cigarettes. In short, cigarette smoking caused stress.

In another study reported by the American Academy of Pediatrics, teen smokers were nearly four times as likely as nonsmokers to develop serious symptoms of depression. Depression is a mental illness that hampers day-to-day functioning. Severe cases can even lead to suicide.

Beyond this, tobacco stains teeth and nails. It dulls skin and hair. Smoke reeks and lingers on hair and clothing. Instead of making people attractive, smoking does just the opposite.


About 60 percent of current teen smokers have tried to quit within the past year, reports the CDC. Most started out thinking they could quit at any time. But nicotine addiction seizes control before teens realize they're hooked--sometimes within days or weeks after the first cigarette.

Pure nicotine is deadly. Tobacco, however, delivers just enough nicotine (1 to 2 mg in the average cigarette) to hook users. You might say that cigarettes are engineered as highly effective drug delivery devices.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse reports that nicotine increases dopamine levels in the brain's "reward circuits" within 10 seconds of inhaling. The neurotransmitter dopamine increases feelings of pleasure. Nicotine also decreases the brain's levels of monoamine oxidase (MAO), an enzyme that breaks down excess dopamine.

Nicotine's peak effects dissipate within minutes. Users then need more nicotine to sustain the feeling. So, they smoke more. Depending on a person's arousal state, nicotine can be both a stimulant and a sedative.

When addicted users don't get nicotine, they experience withdrawal. Symptoms include cravings, anxiety, nervousness, and irritability. Thanks to nicotine, the tobacco industry often hooks customers for life.


Media messages that show tobacco favorably entice teens to smoke. But anti-smoking advertising can counter those influences. Dr. Siegel and his colleagues found that teens who regularly receive anti-smoking messages are twice as likely not to smoke as teens who don't get that exposure.

Instead of thinking that "everybody" smokes, teens were more likely to believe that only about one-fourth of American adults and teens smoke--which is true. In other words, getting the facts about smoking helps teens tell the difference between tobacco companies' media myths and reality, notes Dr. Siegel.

In fact, researchers at the University of Michigan found that from 1996 to 2001 the percentage of eighth graders who were smoking dropped to 12 percent from 21 percent; tenth graders who were smoking fell to 21 percent, down from 30 percent. Among 12th graders, the number of smokers dropped to 30 percent in 2001, down from a 37 percent peak in 1997. This drop in teen smoking is attributed to anti-smoking campaigns.

Anti-smoking ordinances and restaurant bans help too. Such rules reduce bystanders' exposure to secondhand smoke. Plus, they keep people from being constantly assaulted by tobacco's pervasive odor. "In towns that don't allow smoking in restaurants," notes Dr. Siegel, "kids are more likely to perceive that fewer people in their community smoke. They're not constantly smelling it and being exposed to it."


The more you know about tobacco and its consequences, the better prepared you'll be to resist media influences and peer pressure to smoke. Practice saying "No, thanks," or "I don't want to," in case a friend offers you tobacco. Better yet, say "I'd prefer if you didn't smoke around me. The smoke really bothers me." Real friends respect each other's wishes.

Whether you're 16 or 60, tobacco takes a toll on health. Encourage everyone around you to avoid tobacco. And be smart. Don't let the tobacco industry trap you.

RELATED ARTICLE: Kicking butts.

If you currently smoke and think you can quit any time, then do that. Quit right now! Toss your tobacco stash and stay away from tobacco for six weeks.

If you succeed, read this article again. Think about tobacco's terrible health consequences. Think too about the money you save by not smoking. The smart choice is to stay away for good.

If you are still smoking, however, you've probably found it hard to stop. About 60 percent of teen smokers have already tried quitting. Breaking nicotine's addictive grip is tough, but it can be done. These ideas can help:

* Think it through. Stop-smoking programs recommend making a decision to quit, planning how to quit, and setting a date to stop. Let the decision to quit be a conscious choice. Make it a priority.

* Accentuate the positive. List reasons why you want to stop smoking. Don't think of quitting as depriving yourself. Focus on giving yourself better health, a more attractive appearance, and more spending money.

* Talk to your family doctor or visit a teen health clinic. Patches and medications can curb nicotine craving. However, they can make you ill if you use them without proper medical direction. (State laws generally let teens get confidential medical advice on their own for addiction-related problems.)

* Get involved with a group. Every spring, the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids sponsors Kick Butts Day. The American Cancer Society holds the Great American Smokeout each November.

* Seek support. Contact your local chapter of the American Lung Association about stop-smoking programs for teens. You can also check out telephone and Internet support services such as QuitNet at

* Involve friends. Teens are much more likely to smoke if a close friend already smokes. Why not turn this peer pressure around? Let friends know you're trying to quit. Ask people not to smoke around you too. The less other people's smoke is in your face, the better your chances of success.

* Find healthy alternatives. Decide to substitute healthy behaviors for smoking. Ease stress by walking regularly or learning a fun sport. Keep carrot sticks, hard candy, or sugarless gum handy if you need to have something in your mouth.

* Drink extra water, but don't increase caffeinated beverage intake.

* Be realistic. Nicotine's addictiveness has been compared to that of heroin and cocaine. If you slide, don't give up. Get help, and try again. The sooner you quit, the sooner you can live a healthier life.

RELATED ARTICLE: Reality check: don't fall for the myths!

Some tobacco company ads say they don't want underage smoking. The ads' hidden message is that smoking is a "grown-up" thing to do. But nothing could be further from the truth. This is manipulative because teens want to do some things they perceive as being grown-up.

About 80 percent of tobacco users start before age 18. So you could say that starting to smoke is a "kid" activity. Many adults' offices and workplaces, in fact, ban smoking. Addicted adults must huddle outside buildings n cold and rainy weather to satisfy their nicotine cravings. It makes sense that the better educated people are, he less likely they are to smoke.

Most teens don't smoke. CDC's National Youth Tobacco Survey for 2000 found that only 11 percent of middle school students and 28 percent of high school students currently smoke cigarettes. Much smaller numbers used other tobacco products. In short, teen tobacco users are a minority.

Cigarette ads suggest that smoking shows independence or rebellion against authority. In fact, teens' buying patterns correlate strongly with tobacco advertising expenditures. Smokers may rebel against parents, but they're buying into what big tobacco companies want--more customers.

Cigarette ads also suggest that smokers are popular and attractive. Usually, the opposite is true. Tobacco stains teeth and nails. Its effect on oxygen levels dulls skin and hair. The acrid smell reeks on smokers, clothing, and people around them.

"The people that I hang out with don't smoke," says 16-year-old Cynthia Loesch of Boston. "It smells nasty. It must taste nasty. We don't want to smell it on us. We don't want to go out with people who smoke."

"Young people need to remember that the majority of youth don't use tobacco," says Spokane's Shannon Brewer. "It's not going to make you glamorous or sexy or cool. Those are things that only you can reach by yourself. It's how you portray yourself."


As of 2001, about three dozen national magazines accepted tobacco company advertising. Visit your public library and find tobacco ads in magazines such as Rolling Stone, Sporting News, Sports Illustrated, TV Guide, Mademoiselle, People, Outdoor Life, Time, or Elle. Answer the following questions about each ad:

1. What ideas do the advertisers want readers to associate with each brand?

2. How might those ideas or concepts appeal to teens?

3. How do the ads fail to tell the whole truth about tobacco's bad health effects?

4. How do advertisers want readers to respond to the ads?

Be ready to discuss your findings with the class.

for more information

Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Students will be able to discuss accurate information and express informed opinions concerning the promotion of tobacco products; to analyze the techniques used in advertisements; and to evaluate a tobacco-related advocacy issue.


* Why is advertising targeted toward teenage consumers so important to the tobacco industry? (The industry needs to replace the older smokers who die or quit each year. Research suggests that very few people begin smoking after age 18.)

* Describe some ways that tobacco advertisements attempt to lure teenagers to their products. (themes with a strong appeal to youth, such as rugged independence, popularity, carefree fun, etc; smoking behavior and products placed in movies and associated with big-name stars; deceptive "anti-smoking" ads that can result in pro-smoking messages--e.g., that present smoking as an adult privilege)

* Categorize some of the negative effects associated with tobacco use. (Physical consequences: cancer, stroke, bronchitis, pneumonia, emphysema, increased risk of miscarriage, premature birth, and SIDS for babies of women who smoke. Mental consequences: addiction to nicotine, with resulting increased stress, relieved only by the use of more nicotine; feelings of isolation from others who may not want to be nearby; greater likelihood of depression. Aesthetic consequences: stained teeth, smelly hair and clothing, etc.)


* Have students evaluate the magazines in your school library: How many and what percentage of the publications have no tobacco advertising at all? How many that do advertise tobacco, in your opinion, target ads to teens?

Then debate the question: Should periodicals chosen for school libraries be free of tobacco advertising?

* Have students examine and analyze several examples of print ads from current magazines. Ask students to look for the themes of an ad, testimonials, scientific data, color, the people photographed (age, race, expressions, manner or dress, "glamour" factors, body language in the pose, etc.), the positioning of the picture of the product and the government-required warning, promotions in the ad, etc.

Examples of anti-tobacco print ad campaigns can be obtained from Web sites given in the second paragraph of "News You Can Use." Spoof tobacco ads can be Discuss approaches in the ads they find the most persuasive.

Encourage students to evaluate billboard and video messages in a similar way. Examples of video anti-tobacco ads can be obtained from The American Legacy Foundation's Media Campaign (for a $5 mailing fee) by contacting them at or calling (770) 488-5705, Ext. 2.

Finally, assign small groups of students to write storyboards or scripts for anti-tobacco advertisements of their own, and maybe have a contest to determine the best ad.

* Using the Reproduction Master on p. 5, have students take part in an advocacy issue surrounding tobacco. Have small groups evaluate the issue, take a position, and produce a persuasive argument in support of their position--a letter, an essay, testimony, persuasive art for use during testimony, or a demonstration.

An example of a nationally organized advocacy campaign can be found at the site of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, It includes a letter that people can fax to the President regarding the lawsuit against tobacco companies. Other related sites: http://tfk. or