Of all participants, 277 started smoking during the study time period.
The initiation of smoking was significantly associated with the number of times each adolescent recalled seeing the cigarette ads.
Nineteen percent of teens in the high cigarette ad recall group started smoking compared to 10% in the low cigarette ad exposure group.
Exposure to ads for other products was not significantly associated with onset of cigarette smoking after adjusting for other factors.
Other predictors of smoking included older age, low socioeconomic level, having friends who smoke, sensation-seeking/rebellion, and low school performance.
“Our results support the notion of a content-related effect of cigarette advertisements and underlines the specificity of the relationship between tobacco marketing and teen smoking,” the authors write. “Exposure to cigarette advertisements but not other advertisements is associated with smoking initiation.”
The researchers say tobacco ads work because companies aim their messages at young people, who are particular susceptible to even subtle meanings, such as hints that smoking is tied to masculinity, in the case of males, and to thinness, sex appeal, and independence for girls.
The other products advertised do not project such mental cues or thoughts, and thus don’t influence youngsters to start smoking.
Study Calls for Comprehensive Ban on Tobacco Ads
The authors say the study shows that cigarette advertising is a powerful lure to youths to start smoking, and that it supports calls for a comprehensive ban on tobacco advertising around the world.
The authors point out that although many countries have greatly restricted cigarette advertising, the United States and Germany are among nations that have not done enough. For example, in Germany, tobacco ads are not allowed on TV or radio, and in newspapers and magazines, but are allowed on billboards and at point of sale.
The study is published in the Jan. 17 issue of the journal Pediatrics.