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Tobacco Ads: Impacting Teens

It is no secret that smoking and the use of tobacco is a hot topic here in the United States. It is a subject that is at the forefront of many conflicts and debates. Even more pressing is the topic of tobacco use by the country’s youths. Smoking is a personal choice afforded to all, but how much influence does advertising have on an individual; especially young adults and teenagers.

The Methods of Big Tobacco Advertising

Throughout the last 50 years tobacco has been one of the most heavily marketed products in the United States. Although usage rates have gone down over the years the amount spent by corporations on advertising has gone up significantly. In 2005 the tobacco industry spent $13.5 billion on advertising alone. Over the course of the century the tobacco industry has built an advertising giant that encompasses all media outlets, even with the restrictions that have now been placed on the business.

Starting in the 1950’s tobacco ads could be seen on virtually every TV station. By the 1970’s the tobacco industry was heavily involved in corporate sponsorships for major athletic franchises. Ads could be seen on billboards, in magazines, and on TV promoting tobacco products.

In 2010 Congress granted The Food and Drug Administration the power to severely restrict the advertising methods of the $89 billion industry. The reasoning behind these acute restrictions: to protect the children, or as Howard Koh, the Assistant Secretary of Health, put it, “…to prevent our children from becoming the next generation of Americans to die early from tobacco-related illnesses.”

Why is there such an emphases put on protecting children and teens? The answer is that they are much more susceptible to repeated advertisements.

Advertising Effects on Teens

A study performed in Germany followed 2,100 public school students ranging in age from 10 to 17 years old. After being shown 12 ads, 6 for cigarettes the rest for candy, phones and other products, they were asked to recall the ads and their corresponding products. It was found that 13% of the participating students began smoking within 9 months of being shown the ads. It was also found that the number of tobacco ads that were shown to an individual directly increased the likelihood that he/she would begin smoking. The study concluded that the more a teen is exposed to tobacco ads the more that teen is likely to begin using the products. Although these results leave one with a negative connotation of advertising, it was also found that anti-smoking ads have a greater impact on teens and adolescence.

Marketing used to promote tobacco education has been proven to be effective in reducing the number of younger generational smokers, hence the decline in smokers over the years. It can also be argued that safer alternatives, such as the electronic cigarette, paired with positive advertising will help to reduce the amount of younger smokers, and as a result decrease the chances of disease as these generations mature.

In the end, smoking is a personal choice that must be left up to the individual. Yet, proper education and safer alternatives can lead teens to make more edified decisions. Tobacco companies have the right to advertise their products, however, America has the responsibility to protect and inform its youth.

Impact of Tobacco Advertising Practices
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