Tobacco Ads Still Reaching Young Audiences

Tobacco marketing seen by teenagers and young adults linked to smoking

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Tobacco companies are not as free to advertise as they were years ago, but a new study suggests that despite restrictions, cigarette marketing is still reaching many young people.

The study looked at exposure to direct marketing from tobacco companies among both teens and young adults.

The study found that exposure to tobacco marketing was common among the young people, and that an association existed between this exposure and smoking cigarettes.

"Keep your body healthy by not smoking."

According to the authors of this study, which was led by Samir Soneji, PhD, of the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth in Lebanon, New Hampshire, though tobacco advertisement targeted at teens and young adults has been tied to increased smoking among young people, and though restrictions have been placed on tobacco companies to try to limit this, tobacco marketing may still be reaching the youth.

To examine this association, the researchers focused on "direct-to-consumer" tobacco marketing, including direct mail from tobacco companies or tobacco companies' websites.

Dr. Soneji and team surveyed 2,541 young adults between the ages of 15 and 23 using both telephone and web-based surveys. Participants lived across the US.

These participants were asked about their exposure to direct-to-consumer tobacco marketing and about their smoking history, including if they had ever tried smoking in the past.

The participants who had smoked within the past 30 days were considered current smokers for the purposes of this study, and participants who had smoked 100 cigarettes or more in their lifetime were considered established smokers.

Dr. Soneji and team found that 12 percent of the teens between the ages of 15 and 17 were exposed to either form of direct marketing, and the same was true for 28 percent of the young adults between the ages of 18 and 23.

When looking at only direct mailings from tobacco companies, 6 percent of the 15- to 17-year-olds and 17 percent of the 18- to 23-year-olds were exposed. The rates were similar when considering only tobacco websites — 6 percent of the younger adolescents and 15 percent of the older young adults were exposed.

The researchers also found that participants who were exposed to one form of direct marketing had higher odds of currently smoking than those who were not exposed. For participants who were exposed to both types of direct marketing, the odds of currently smoking were even higher. Similar trends were seen when examining exposure to direct marketing and odds for ever having tried smoking and being an established smoker.

It is important to note that both marketing exposure and tobacco-use history were self-reported by the participants, which could have allowed for some error in this research. Further research is needed to confirm these findings.

"Enhanced oversight may be required to keep pace with ever-evolving tobacco marketing and limit its untoward effects on youth," wrote Dr. Soneji and team.

This study was published online March 24 in the Journal of Adolescent Health. No conflicts of interest were reported.

Review Date: 
April 3, 2014
Last Updated:
April 3, 2014