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1. Jeffrey Jensen Arnetta,
2. George Terhanianb
1. aDepartment of Human Development and Family Studies, University of Missouri, Columbia, Missouri, USA, bGraduate School of Education, University of Pennsylvania, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA
1. Dr JJ Arnett, Department of Human Development and Family Studies, University of Missouri, 31 Stanley Hall, Columbia, Missouri 65211-7700, USA.arnett{at}showme.missouri.edu

Abstract

DESIGN Adolescents were shown one print advertisement for each of five cigarette brands (Camel, Marlboro, Kool, Benson & Hedges, and Lucky Strike). They indicated on a structured questionnaire how many times they had seen the advertisement (or one almost like it), how much they liked it, whether or not they thought it made smoking more appealing, and whether or not it made them want to smoke cigarettes of that brand.

SETTING Middle school and high school classrooms, seven schools in four states in the United States (New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Texas). The classrooms were selected randomly within each school.

PARTICIPANTS 534 adolescents in grades 6–12 (ages 11–18 years) from seven schools in four states, 54% female, 76% white.

CONCLUSIONS The advertisements most popular among adolescents are for two of the brands they are most likely to smoke—Marlboro and Camel. The results of the study are consistent with the view that certain cigarette advertisements enhance the appeal of smoking to many adolescents.

• brand preferences

Statistics from Altmetric.com

Three factors have especially contributed to the growing criticism of tobacco advertising over the past decade. First, tobacco industry documents have been released in the course of litigation against the tobacco companies that provide evidence that tobacco advertising has been directed toward adolescents. The documents show a strong concern with the characteristics of adolescents that lead them to take up smoking, and describe research conducted to investigate these characteristics. Some of the documents make explicit references to minors. For example, a planning document for 1977–1986 produced by the RJ Reynolds Tobacco Company states, “Evidence is now available to indicate that the 14 to 18 year old group is an increasing segment of the smoking population. RJR must soon establish a successful new brand in this market if our position in the Industry is to be maintained over the long term”6(emphasis in the original).

Methods

PARTICIPANTS

Adolescents in grades 6–12 (ages 11–18 years) participated in the study. The adolescents were from a convenience sample of seven schools in four states (New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Texas). States and schools were chosen because the second author had done research in these schools previously and because the schools were believed to provide some degree of regional and ethnic diversity. Classrooms were chosen randomly within each school. Students were told that the study involved responses to cigarette advertisements and that their participation would be anonymous. All the students in class on the day of data collection participated in the study. There were 534 participants, including 121 in grades 6 and 7, 203 in grades 8 and 9, and 207 in grades 10–12. There were 129 smokers (24%) in the sample (who answered “yes” in response to the question, “Do you smoke cigarettes?”). Fifty-four per cent of the participants were female; 76% were white, 6% black, 9% Hispanic, 3% Asian, and 6% other.

PROCEDURE

The adolescents were shown pictures of the advertisements as they had appeared, although without the magazine context. Different groups of students were shown the advertisements in rotating order, so that the order of presentation varied. The students completed the questionnaire portion for each advertisement following its presentation.

The study was conducted during January 1997.

Results

The demographic characteristics of the sample are described above. The frequencies regarding exposure and responses to the advertisements appear in table 1.

Table 1

The degree of adolescents’ exposure to the advertisements was related to the degree to which they liked (“like very much” or “somewhat like”) the advertisements (table 1). The advertisement liked by the greatest proportion of adolescents was for Camel, followed by Marlboro, Kool, Benson & Hedges, and Lucky Strike.

The Camel and Marlboro advertisements were also the ones that were most likely to be viewed by the adolescents as making smoking more appealing (table 1). The rank order was similar to the responses for exposure and liking, with the advertisement for Camel having the highest appeal rating, followed by those for Marlboro, Kool, Lucky Strike, and Benson & Hedges. A similar rank order was found for responses to the question of whether or not an advertisement made them want to smoke cigarettes of that brand, but with Marlboro highest, followed by Camel, Kool, and the other two brands.

Analyses were conducted concerning the relations between the advertisement variables and smoking status, with grade, gender, and ethnicity as covariates. Because ethnic differences in brand preferences have revealed patterns distinctive to African Americans but not other ethnic groups,2 ethnicity was analysed as a dichotomous variable comparing African Americans (n = 33) to all other adolescents. Regression analyses were conducted for Exposure and Liking. Because the dependent variables for some brands violated the assumption of a normal distribution that is made in regression analyses, the logs of the Exposure and Liking variables were used as the dependent variables. Logistic regression analyses were conducted for the Appealing and Want to Smoke variables because these variables were dichotomous. For the regression analyses as well as for the logistic regression analyses, smoking status and the covariates were entered simultaneously into the equations.

The results of these analyses are shown in tables 2 and 3. With respect to Exposure, smokers reported higher exposure to advertisements for Marlboro but not the other brands. Older adolescents reported more exposure to advertisements for all brands except Camel. With respect to Liking, smokers expressed higher liking than non-smokers for the advertisements of all five brands.

Table 2

Regression analyses, Exposure and Liking

Table 3

Logistic regression analyses, Appealing and Want to smoke

Discussion

Our data support the concerns expressed by public health advocates over the Joe Camel and Marlboro Man advertising campaigns. The advertisements for these brands are the ones that adolescents have seen most, like the best, and believe are most likely to make smoking more appealing. Adolescents who smoke are especially prone to like them and to believe they make smoking more appealing.

It is worth noting that adolescents’ reported exposure to the advertisements corresponds roughly, but not exactly, to tobacco companies’ advertising budgets for each brand. In the first ten months of 1996, the rank order of advertising budgets for the brands included here were as follows13: Marlboro ($84 million), Camel ($40 million), Kool ($36.5 million), Benson & Hedges ($12.6), and Lucky Strike (\$882 000). This rank order generally corresponds to adolescents’ responses of how much they had seen the advertisements, as well as how much they liked them, whether or not they found the them appealing, and whether or not they made them want to smoke a cigarette of that brand. However, the notable exception is for the Joe Camel advertisement. Although less than half as much money was spent in the first 10 months of 1996 on the Joe Camel campaign as on advertisements featuring the Marlboro Man, Joe Camel advertisements were reported by adolescents in our study to have been seen most often (perhaps indicating that they were more likely than Marlboro advertisements to be noticed by adolescents), and were also the advertisements most liked and most likely to be seen as making smoking appealing. This indicates that the Joe Camel campaign was uniquely effective in its appeal to adolescents.

Much of the criticism of the Joe Camel advertising campaign has been based on findings of high rates of recognition of the Joe Camel character among young children. In a study that took place shortly after the Joe Camel campaign began, a high proportion of children aged 3–6 years matched Joe Camel with cigarettes, with the proportion rising with age to 91% of the six year olds.14 The authors of the study concluded that recognition of the brand in childhood may translate to use of the product later in life. However, two other studies, although similarly finding high rates of recognition of the Joe Camel character among young children, also found that the children’s attitudes toward cigarettes were overwhelmingly negative.15 16 The authors of these two studies concluded that, in the light of the negative views of cigarettes held by children, high exposure to advertisements featuring Joe Camel may make them less likely to smoke cigarettes years later, because the exposure would only intensify their negative sentiments toward cigarettes.

The study contains limitations that should be noted. Schools were chosen for data collection not randomly but as a convenience sample on the basis of contacts from previous research by the second author. Our sample of adolescents was clustered within these schools, which is less desirable than sampling randomly from many more schools, because the clustering may magnify any characteristics specific to a particular school. Also, in retrospect it would have been preferable to collect information on cigarette brands smoked by the smokers in the sample, to relate their brand preference to their brand-specific responses. Furthermore, the study was cross-sectional rather than longitudinal; this limits the extent to which conclusions about causality can be drawn.

The 1994 report on youth smoking by the Institute of Medicine observed, “The question is not, are advertising and promotion the causes of youth initiation, but rather, does the preponderance of evidence suggest that features of advertising and promotion tend to encourage youths to smoke?”24 It is increasingly evident that the answer to this question is yes. The implication of this answer should be no less evident: in the interest of reducing smoking among adolescents, cigarette advertising and promotion should be banned or restricted to adults-only venues.

Acknowledgments

The views and conclusions expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of the Gordon S Black Corporation, for whom GT is a project manager.

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