Effects of tobacco advertising restrictions: weak responses
to strong measures?

Janet Hoek

Many countries have imposed restrictions on tobacco advertising in the belief that these will curb tobacco consumption. These beliefs rely on the 'strong' theory of advertising, which holds that advertising exerts a powerful persuasive influence on consumers' behaviour. However, the research examining the advertising-consumption relationship has reached contradictory conclusions and led some to argue that such bans are ineffective.

In contrast, proponents of the 'weak' theory of advertising suggest that advertising reinforces rather than initiates consumers' behaviour. This paper explores tobacco advertising restrictions in the context of the weak theory and suggests that the apparent failure of increased restrictions to depress either juvenile or aggregate tobacco consumption is unsurprising. The paper concludes that decisions about tobacco advertising restrictions are political and should be based on ethical principles and not on assumed behavioural consequences, which are unsupported by modern advertising theory.