Tobacco Ads Still Target Youth
Smokeless tobacco makers have largely avoided scrutiny, says UGA’s Dean Krugman, because the national focus has been on the consequences—especially among youth—of cigarette smoking, which involves much higher levels of marketing and enormous health consequences. But smokeless tobacco is no safe alternative to cigarettes, he points out; research shows it can cause cancers of the mouth and throat as well as other negative health consequences.
Although young people do turn to smokeless tobacco—a 2005 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that 8 percent of high-school students regularly use it —“from a public-policy perspective it is flying under the radar,” said Krugman, who is a professor in UGA’s Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication. “Researchers and policymakers who are concerned about youth tobacco use should not stop at cigarettes.”
Noted settlements of recent years between government and the tobacco industry, which were aimed at limiting advertising exposure, appear to have had little effect with regard to smokeless tobacco, according to Krugman and his colleagues Margie Morrison and Pumsoon Park.
Major cigarette producers signed the Master Settlement Agreement in 1998, as did the attorneys general of 46 states. Among other things, the settlement called for the elimination of billboard advertising, cartoon-based advertising, and marketing aimed at youth. That same year a similar agreement, known as the Smokeless Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement (STMSA), was signed by the attorneys general and U.S. Smokeless Tobacco Company, the largest smokeless-tobacco manufacturer.
To gauge subsequent advertising exposure and whether smokeless tobacco companies had complied with the STMSA, Krugman and colleagues analyzed data on readership and advertising in popular magazines over a 10-year period. Outlets used by smokeless-tobacco advertisers included Rolling Stone, Spin, Sports Illustrated, and Sporting News.
At the beginning of the study period (1993), 66 percent of youth were being exposed to smokeless tobacco advertising in magazines; at the end of the period (2002, the last year for which figures were available) 64 percent were still being exposed. The study found that smokeless-tobacco advertising in magazines actually increased in the first year after the STMSA went into effect, reaching 83 percent of adolescents. Exposure dropped to 57 percent in 2000, but rates steadily increased in subsequent years.
Krugman, Morrison, and Park published the results of their work in the June 2007 issue of the American Journal of Public Health.
“Despite the fact that we have the Smokeless Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement in place, these messages are still getting to a substantial number of youth,” concluded lead-author Morrison, associate professor in the School of Advertising and Public Relations at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville.
Moreover, Krugman is concerned about the test marketing of Marlboro and Camel smokeless products. “These brand names have been overwhelmingly successful with young people,” Krugman said. “The power of those brands will create a built-in appeal for their smokeless products.”