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Study: Teen Antismoking Ads Backfiring

Teens Who Watch Some Ads Report Stronger Intentions to Smoke

Tobacco Industry Reaction

Philip Morris spokesman David Sutton would not comment on specifics of the study. But he says the parent-targeted ads respond to research findings that "parents are the single greatest influence in their kids' decision not to smoke." (Lorrillard company officials did not return phone calls seeking comment.)

In justifying the ads, the Philip Morris web site quotes a study by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University stating that "parents hold the most important key to their children's decision of whether or not to smoke, drink, or use drugs." Surveys by the center show that teens are much more likely to engage in these behaviors if they believe their parents don't care if they do so or not.

Yet the center's director, Joseph Califano, a former secretary of Health, Education and Welfare, is a harsh critic of the ad campaign. "They're trying to run ads that subliminally are either useless or encourage kids to smoke," Califano tells WebMD.

Califano urges tobacco firms to resume funding the National Public Education Fund, which sponsors the "truth" campaign of antismoking ads. Those hard-hitting ads portray teenagers confronting the tobacco industry for marketing a deadly product and lying about its effects. In one well-known "truth" ad, kids piled body bags outside of a tobacco company's headquarters as part of a protest.

Studies show that it's the most rebellious teens who are most at risk of smoking, says Joseph Martyak, marketing chief for the American Legacy Foundation, makers of the "truth" ads. The "truth" ads "speak to that rebellion" by encouraging rebelliousness toward the tobacco companies, Martyak tells WebMD.

By contrast, the "Talk, They'll Listen" ads, "by telling parents to tell the child not to smoke, draw a line in the sand for kids who are looking for a way to rebel."

'Truth' ads vs. 'Talk' ads

A 2002 study, also published in the American Journal of Public Health, estimated that the "truth" ads reduced the number of children and teen smokers by 300,000 from 2000 to 2002. Another study in the same journal that year found a "boomerang" effect of the industry-sponsored "Think. Don't Smoke" ads targeted at teens.

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