THE TOXIC EFFECTS OF ADVERTISING ON TEEN SMOKING by Stainton McKenzie›››››››››››
Seducing young teens in America today has been the crusade of the tobacco industry, using their star wars-type weapons-like commercials, magazine and bill board ads.› Everyday, about three thousand teens in America enter adulthood as confirmed cigarette smokers: which is directly equivalent to the number of adults who quit smoking or die from diseases caused by smoking.
Smoking related deaths, are the number one preventable deaths in America.› With so much information available about the effects of smoking and with so much freedom for a person to choose whether or not to smoke, you would think that people would make a more educated choice than to smoke.› But people are still smoking which means that people are still dying.› This is why the tobacco industry has to perpetuate the cycle of smoking before their sales drop.› žTobacco companies had to replace smokers that quit or died every year with new smokers.› Tobacco advertising and promotion took an abrupt turn to address their potential loss of profit.› They started targeting kids, and it worked- teens started smoking by the millionsÓ (Bailey 54).
Companies such as Philip Morris say that they are in the struggle to decrease the number of teens who smoke.› They have done a lot of research and have come to the conclusion that smoking starts among teens because of peer pressure.› ž[These studiesŪ] erroneous fly in the face overwhelming international evidence to the contrary.› The primary reason [youth start smoking] is peer pressure.› It is appalling that anti-smoking groups would do anything to downplay the pre-eminent reason why young people start smokingÓ (Bailey 88).› As opposed to advertisements being the culprit in getting kids to start smoking, the tobacco industries say that peer pressure is to blame.
A letter from Phillip Morris states:
žWe at Philip Morris USA share a common goal with members of
the public health community:› reducing the incidence of smoking
by young people.› One indication of my companyŪs commitment to
this effort is the creation of our youth smoking prevention department,
whose sole goal is to help reduce underage use of tobaccoÓ.
However, if anti-youth-smoking campaigns were successful, adult-smoking rates would eventually plummet.› This is supported by the number of adults who begin the habit as teens.› Raymond Melrose of the American Cancer Society says,› žWe know for sure that 80 percent, closer to 90 percent of adults who are addicted to tobacco began their habit before they were eighteen years old; before they were legally able to purchase them.Ó
››››››››››› We live in a society today of big business and large corporations, all of whom are raping the land and mass-producing.› However, those in the tobacco industry are destroying the very fabric of our society.› The tobacco manufacturers are exploiting the innocence from our youths, all in the name of profit.› These manufacturers such as R.J. Nabisco are influencing and shaping the future of our nation.› They are simply using a marketing strategy such as commercials to influence our teenagers (13 to 18).› žThe number one rule of selling is: know your customer.› That is precisely why the tobacco industry sponsored research to learn how tobacco smoking starts.› They identified the major psychological vulnerabilities of children, who they call startersÓ (Bailey 60).› This leaves children open as prey to the big tobacco industry.
The CEOŪs and marketing executives know from research data that when they recruit a teenager, they have in fact landed a steady source of revenue for the next twenty years, if not longer.› They can gain access to these žstartersÓ through promotions and gimmicks, whether it be through imagery or collectable items.› Appealing to teens is not a new strategy used by tobacco companies.› žBy the early 1900Ūs, cigarettes were favored by male teens, young adults and immigrantsÓ (Monroe 10).› The companies did just about anything to market their product.› žCigarette manufacturers developed ways to market their product to teens.› In 1878, trading cards and coupons were launched to increase sales.› Smokers (and non-smokers) wanted to collect all the cards in different seriesÓ (Monroe 10).› This influences teens to buy the cigarettes.› They are not necessarily smokers or want to become smokers but by buying the merchandise, they are exposed to it.› žKids who are collecting the packs [ to get promotional items] ā theyŪre handling the products.› That weakens their resistance towards tobaccoÓ (Pierce 1).›
The tobacco industry is very strategic in their methods of getting children to smoke.› Data, gathered by the 1993 California Tobacco Survey, žindicate sudden rises in adolescent smoking coincide with large-scale cigarette promotional campaigns.› The researchers selected five periods between 1890 and 1977 during which major tobacco marketing campaigns were launched and measured smoking initiation rates before and after these promotionsÓ (Pierce 500).› The teens become hooked on nicotine because of› a promotional scheme.
›Once these teens turn into adults, developed illnesses related to smoking and are told by the physician that he or she has to quit smoking, there will be another teen at some location around the country who has just taken his or her first puff.› žOnce young people have smoked more than a few cigarettes, most become addicted to the nicotine and remain steady tobacco customers for many yearsÓ (Monroe 36).› The tobacco industry is gaining a probable life long customer.
Teens are bombarded with cigarette advertisements on a daily basis.› Whether the advertisements are displayed on a billboard or in a local store, teens are always surrounded by the negative influence.› žIn 1995, the California Department of Health Services studied 5,700 stores in the state.› Stores in young neighborhoods with one third of the population 17 years and younger, had the highest number of ads per storeÓ (Bailey 63).› These ads are purposely made to entice teens; to make them feel like there is a way to grow up faster.› žCigarette advertising strategies today seduce children and teens into smoking by associating it with a protest of authority figures, rebellion, and a symbol of independenceÓ (Bailey 59).› Or the ads can make the teen feel that smoking is what he or she needs to fit into society.› žThe ads remind the youngsters of what they lack, and imply that smoking will satisfy that lack.› Men and women, real or cartoon characters, are depicted having fun, and doing adult things which teens want to doÓ (Bailey 59).
››››››››››› We try to put restrictions on cigarette advertisements by banning them from being aired on television, but tobacco companies often find a way around this limitation.› žEver watch the Virginia Slims Tennis Tournament, or a soccer or football game?› YouŪll see plenty of billboards for cigarettes around the stadium.› Cigarette advertising is alive and well on televisionÓ (Adler 29).› Cigarette ads are incorporated into the most popular events.› žR.J. Reynolds sponsors fashion shows, rock concerts, country music festivals, sports events including skiing and race car driving, and sports clothing with the cigarette- brand logosÓ (Adler 32).› The ads are all around giving the tobacco companies a lot of exposure for their product.› žThis enables them to promote their product and associate it with a glamorous or healthy pastimeÓ (Ward 42).› Television commercials, magazine and newspaper ads are adversely infecting our teen population.›››
This is alarming, considering that the United States is one of if not the richest country on this planet.› We are so well educated, yet we allow the destruction of our teens and our future by negotiating it away, simply because of the revenues that the tobacco industry will pay the government, so that they can continue to kill us.› žFor the federal government, money derived from cigarette taxes amounts to billions of dollars per year.› As a result, the government is reluctant to take actions that might impair this revenueÓ (Keene 58).› Before there was scientific evidence that smoking was harmful, practices were established between the government and the tobacco industry where they supported one another.› žThe government subsidizes the tobacco industry in much the same way it subsidizes many other facets of the agricultural industry.› Such subsidies are critical to many state and local economies for which tobacco is a major source of revenueÓ (Keene 34).›› It would be so easy to place the blame solely on the tobacco industry, but what message does this send when various states around the country graciously accept the money issued them by the government, that was received from the tobacco industry.› This is the money, which they use to fix highways, sidewalks and various inner city problems.
The tobacco industry is so large and powerful that lawmakers are afraid to touch them.› They are willing to take the tobacco industry to court, not to abolish advertising and sales but to simply place greater sanctions so the government will get more money, which will be divided, among the states.› It is easy for the government to say that the tobacco industry is destroying our society but the government wants them in business so they can continue to get billions of dollars in revenue each year, unfortunately, at the expense of our teenagers lives.› In 1997, žA federal judge in North Carolina declined to re-evaluate a recent ruling that allows the government to restrict youth access to cigarettesÓ (Rasu 12).› It is good that the government is allowed to put restrictions on advertisements but it would be better if the ads could be completely banned.› žIn April, Judge William Osteen said the Food and Drug Administration doesnŪt have authority to restrict advertising but has the right to restrict access to youth, including self-service displays in storesÓ (Rasu 12).› The government is at fault as much as the tobacco industry.› They are afraid to take the step in getting rid of cigarettes and other tobacco products because of the revenue that they receive.› ž÷The tobacco industry in America pays over $13 billion in taxes each yearÓ (Monroe 45).›››
››››››››››› Consequently, what and where is the parentŪs responsibility in this issue?› At what level do we hold parents accountable for what their children are doing?› It has become such a problem that certain cigarette brands have become a household name.› žOver 90 percent of six-year-olds could recognize Joe Camel and link him with his product, the same rate they have for DisneyŪs Mickey MouseÓ (Forst 15).› Parents buy products such as KelloggŪs cereal and on these boxes there are print ads, clearly promoting Kool cigarettes.› In addition, what about the parents who purchase items like Hotwheels from retailers that ambiguously advertise Marlboro cigarettes. What type of message are we sending as parents?
››››››››››› Recently, I conducted an interview with three teenagers, all of whom are sophomores in High School.› All three individuals attended different high schools and are from different cultural backgrounds.› They had interesting answers to my questions of how long and why they smoke.› Two of the girls I interviewed named Anna and Kayla gave identical answers to the question of whether or not they were influenced by some type of magazine or newspaper ad.› And even though I spoke with them at separate intervals both concluded that the Virginia slims ads that are found in womenŪs magazineÓYM, Teen People and SeventeenÓ, played a role in their starting to smoke.› AnnaŪs reply to the question was, I used to see girls in these ads and they looked so cool and they always had a nice looking guy next to them.Ó› KaylaŪs reply to the same question was žI just wanted to be cool with the guys.Ó› Upon future conversation with Anna, she revealed that she started smoking at the age of thirteen.› Trying to be consistent with my interview I asked Kayla the same question and she stated, ž IŪve been smoking for about a year now.Ó› Both girls seemed unshaken by the future ramifications of their present actions.›
››››››››››› My third interview was with Steven who smokes the Marlboro brand.› In StevenŪs words,› žI started smoking because it made me feel like a man, a grown up and it made me kind of popular with the girls.Ó› However, Steven has this misconception that at any time whenever he so chooses he can stop his habit.› But, according to epidemiologist John Pierce of the University of California, many teenagers typically start smoking as an occasional thing.› žThe overriding factor is the image of being cool, teens all think they are not going to get addicted that they can stop but they canŪtÓ.
››››››››››› I interviewed a friend of my family named Jonathan Bailey.› At age 56, he has been a regular smoker for over 40 years.› Although he is only 56, he has evident signs of failing health such as terrible wheezing from emphysema.› He told me that his teeth were taken out many years ago due to their horrible condition.› They were tar filled and yellowish brown to the point of decay.› As he spoke, I saw that his false teeth we not in much better condition.› In a final response to my questions he says,
žWhen it all comes down to it, I wish I never started smoking.› I think about my friends that I started smoking with and realize that two of them already died from cancer.› When I look at all the advertisements, I hate to think that I was ever foolish enough to have ever believed them.› I hate to face the fact that I am slowly dying.Ó
In the movies Teen Smoking and Why Kids Smoke? , the teens were very aware of their smoking and non-smoking habits.› These films were made for children between the ages of ten and 18.› The films gave a fresh new outlook at the financial and medical effects of smoking.› It is designed to appeal to teens and young children through funny animation and the voices of other young people facing the similar dilemmas of smoking and not smoking.
Many of the non-smokers had very valid health reasons that explained why they didnŪt smoke.› They spoke about cancer of the different parts of the body such as the lungs and the mouth.› They talked about the stained teeth, bad breath, and clothing that reeked of cigarette smoke.› Many of the teen males were afraid of potential impotency while the female teens laughed at it making the male teens even more scared.› They spoke about the ads and what they felt the ads portrayed.› Many of the teens saw the ads as selling beautiful people and saw those people fitting into žcoolÓ social scenes.› The teens, however, were greatly impacted by the health aspects of smoking and chose not to smoke.
››››››››››› Many of the smokers, on the other hand, were already addicted and by now, a lot of them saw through the cheap depictions of the tobacco industry.› Some teens admitted to the initial lure of the cigarette advertisements and others to the pressure of their peers.› But they all had the same initial desire to fit in with their friends or people that they thought were žcoolÓ.›
››››››››››› But the teens realize that the tobacco industry is spending about six billion dollars each year on advertisements.› One teen said, žYou donŪt spend that much unless you are planning to make quite a killing!Ó›› The pun was very true because in America, everyday, 6,000 teens try cigarettes.› And everyday, 3,000 of those kids get addicted.› The teens know all about the risks of smoking but a lot of the smokers just do not care about their futures that far along in life.
This is the major reason why I am adamant against advertising targeted towards teenagers.› Young people have so many more vices to deal with such as drugs, drinking, premarital sex, dropping out of school, guns, gang violence and this adds more to the demons that they already have to battle at this traumatic stage of their lives.
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Bailey, Jonathan.› Personal Interview.› 30 July.› 2000.
Bailey, William.› The Invisible Drug.› Houston: Mosaic Publications, Inc., 1996.
Brown, Steven.› Personal interview.› 3 July.› 2000.
Forst, Martin L.› Planning and Implementing Effective Tobacco Education and Prevention Programs.› Illinois: Charles C. Thomas Publisher, 1999.
Jenkins, Anna.› Personal interview.› 2 July.› 2000.
Keene, Anne.› Nicotine: An Old Fashioned Addiction.› New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1992.
Monroe, Judy.› Nicotine. New Jersey: Enslow Publishers, Inc., 1995.
Nunez, Kayla.› Personal interview.› 6 July.› 2000
Pierce, John, Elizabeth Gillpin.› žA Historical Analysis of Tobacco Marketing and the Uptake of smoking by Youth in the United States: 1890-1977Ó› Health Psychology, Vol. 14, No.6, p.500.
Rasu, Andrew.› žTobacco Ruling.Ó› Wall Street Journal 10 June 1997: B12.
Teen Smoking.›› Dir. Tammy Hoffs and M.A. Ulick.› Videocassette.› Schlessinger Media.› 1999.
Ward, Brian R.› Smoking and Health› New York: Franklin Watts, 1986.
Why Kids Smoke.› Dir. Tammy Hoffs and M.A. Ulick.› Videocassette.› Schlessinger Media.› 1999.