Cigarette Advertisers Illegally Target Teenage Girls

Sarah Arakaki/Guardian

Cigarette advertisement embellished with flashy pink packaging may seem frivolous, but a recent UCSD study revealed that these campaigns illegally target impressionable adolescent girls, despite a 1994 industry agreement to discipline such practices.

“Cigarette ads have a powerful effect on children’s curiosity,” UCSD Cancer Prevention and Control Program Director John P. Pierce said. “Curiosity is a powerful drive that is more likely to lead to experimentation.”

In 1998, four of the largest U.S. cigarette companies, including Phillip Morris USA, Lorillard Tobacco Company and Camel manufacturer R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, signed an agreement with the California State Attorney General to stop targeting youth, in response to studies showing that teens are more highly receptive to advertising.

However, statistics gathered from a five-year telephone survey study suggests that even after this agreement, teens exposed to a 2007 Camel No. 9 ad were more likely to use cigarettes. The Moores Cancer Center polled 1,036 male and female adolescents from 2003 to 2008 about their experiences with smoking in order to gauge the effect of advertisements. Participants were asked whether they had a “favorite ad.”

According to Pierce, although the percentage of boys with a favorite cigarette advertisement remained stable over the five years, the number of girls who had a favorite advertisement showed a significant jump after the fifth survey, which occurred immediately after the Camel’s release of the No. 9 ad.

In the fifth survey, 21 percent of female participants claimed they had a favorite advertisement — a significant increase from the previous year’s report of 10 to 13 percent. Overall, 44 percent of girls named a favorite advertisement during the fifth survey, compared to 31 to 33 percent in the first four years. Pierce attributed this spike to the No. 9 campaign that targeted young girls.

“Previous studies show that these girls who identify with a favorite ad are at a 50 percent increased risk to start smoking in the future,” Pierce said.

Congressional leaders have complained that Reynolds’ campaign violates the agreement, he added.

For the No. 9 campaign, Camel placed the advertisements in magazines such as Vogue and Glamour, where ads often appear as fashion spreads designed to entice women with giveaway prizes such as lip balms, cell phones and purses.

“We identified that the jump in 2007 was due to the Camel No. 9 campaign that was specifically targeted [toward] girls,” Pierce said. “And this shows they are still doing something they agreed not to do in the MSA.”

R.J. Reynolds responded to the criticism by announcing that the company would discontinue print No. 9 advertising, but would continue to sponsor the campaign through internet advertising and in stores that carry the brand.

Readers can contact Kelly Kim at [email protected].

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