Despite the introduction of regulations on tobacco marketing in recent years, cigarette manufacturers continue to produce ads which reach young people more effectively than efforts from anti-smoking organisations, according to research from the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg Public Policy Center.

As part of the 1998 settlement with the tobacco industry, efforts were made to restrict the marketing of cigarettes to adolescents, including a ban on the use of billboard ads and cartoon characters. However, the study, which interviewed 2,600 14–22-year-olds and 1,500 people aged 23 and over, found that teenagers are still exposed to cigarette advertising and promotions in magazines, stores, restaurants and bars.

Moreover, these ads are more likely to be recalled by adolescents than by people over 30 – almost 90% of interviewed 18-year-olds could remember such ads, a stark contrast to the recall rate of 50% among 50-year-olds. Significantly, only 75% of 18-year-olds remembered anti-smoking advertising.

The report concluded that, although anti-smoking ads increased awareness of tobacco-related health risks, people would still try cigarettes if they had acquired a positive image of smoking elsewhere. Commented Matthew Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids: “Teenagers are less responsive to information about health risks than they are about the overall psychological view of smoking that’s fostered by tobacco marketing.”

In addition, says the report, many adolescents remain ignorant of the health risks despite anti-tobacco ads – 63% of young people believed (incorrectly) that smoking causes fewer deaths per year than drugs and alcohol; and 60% said quitting would be “very easy or possible for most people if they really try.”

The study measured exposure to anti-smoking ads before 1999, therefore more recent, hard-hitting campaigns from the American Legacy Foundation have not been included. However, even these may not be enough, according to the Annenberg Center’s Dan Romer: “The [ALF’s] ads increase youth exposure to effective counter-marketing but are not a sufficient response to the tobacco industry’s $8.24 billion annual marketing budget.”

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