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Anti-smoking ads cleverly boost smoking among teens

Monday, November 06, 2006 by: Jessica Fraser
Tags: smoking, deceptive marketing, advertising gimmicks

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(NewsTarget) Tobacco industry-funded anti-smoking ads aimed at discouraging teen smoking actually caused teens to smoke more, according to a new report by Australian researchers published in the American Journal of Public Health.

Phillip Morris' "Talk: They'll Listen" ad campaign -- designed to get parents to verbally dissuade their kids from taking up smoking -- caused high-schoolers to want to smoke more. The study's authors claim that the ads were actually meant to spur teen smoking, since most teens spurn their parents' advice.

The "Talk: They'll Listen" campaign failed because its message was only that parents should talk to their kids about smoking; not that children should not smoke, according to the study's authors. The researchers concluded that "no reason beyond simply being a teenager is offered as to why youths should not smoke."

According to developmental psychologists, teens 15 to 17 years old tend to reject authoritative messages because they believe they are independent, which renders Philip Morris' ad campaign largely useless, the researchers said.

The study's authors believe that Big Tobacco anti-smoking ads have actually become a new way of getting young people addicted to cigarettes. For example, many Big Tobacco ads push "light" cigarettes -- which contain lower levels of nicotine and tar -- as a way for smokers to transition from full-strength cigarettes, rather than quitting the habit entirely.

However, recent studies have shown "light" cigarettes to be just as dangerous as regular brands, though 37 percent of smokers switched to "lights" because they believed they were less harmful.

According to a 2003 study from the Cancer Council Victoria in Australia, the only anti-smoking ads that actually work on teens show the graphic, gory health consequences of smoking. Teens shown images of a smoker's oozing artery or a blood clot in a smoker's brain were less attracted to smoking, the researchers found.

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