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Magazine Ads For Smokeless Tobacco Reach Many Adolescents

Armen Hareyan's picture

Young people who read some of the most popular magazines on newsstands see a great deal of advertising from smokeless tobacco companies, according to a new study.

Advertising can make smokeless tobacco attractive to young people, and lead study author Margaret Morrison says little attention has been paid to how this exposure can potentially affect them.

Health experts say smokeless tobacco is highly addictive and can cause cancers of the mouth and throat and loss of teeth. Despite these risks, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention survey reported that 8 percent of high school students had used smokeless tobacco in the last 30 days, with a rate of 14 percent among males.

"This may suggest that young people aren't educated about the dangers of smokeless tobacco to the same extent that they are educated about the dangers of cigarettes," said Morrison, with the University of Tennessee School of Advertising and Public Relations.

The new study used readership and advertising data to find how much smokeless tobacco advertising appeared in magazines with readers of ages 12 to 17. The study looked at a 10-year span from January 1993 to December 2002 -- the most recent available data at the time of the study.

The researchers found that during that period, more than $107 million was spent on smokeless tobacco advertising in 17 magazines with high youth readership, such as Motor Trend, Rolling Stone and Sports Illustrated. U.S. Smokeless Tobacco (UST), one of the country's largest manufacturers of the products, spent 74.6 percent of that amount.

The study also found that in 2002, smokeless tobacco advertisements reached more than 64 percent of adolescents.

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The study appears in the March issue of the American Journal of Public Health.

Morrison and her colleagues said that the Smokeless Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement (STMSA) passed in 1998 aimed to restrict the marketing of smokeless tobacco products.

"The products we looked at in our study are legal products and it's not against the law to advertise legal products," said Morrison. "However, the STSMA stipulates that these products should not be marketed toward youth."

Legal expert Eric Lindblom said, however, that since a 2004 judgment against tobacco company R.J. Reynolds, the practice of marketing to youth has improved.

"It's important to look at what period [this study] covers," said Lindblom, director for policy research and general counsel for the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. "It does not cover current advertising in magazines by UST, but looks at advertising in past years, with 2002 being the most recent."

"Since the R.J. Reynolds penalties, many tobacco companies have either stopped advertising in magazines or sharply restricted their advertising in magazines to comply with that court ruling," Lindblom added.

However, Morrison said that a look at 2005 magazines such as Rolling Stone and Sports Illustrated did reveal that they still carried smokeless tobacco advertising.

"The media play an important role here," she said. "Media vehicles know who their audiences are and should be cautious in accepting advertising for products like smokeless tobacco when the vehicles have young audiences."