Anti-smoking campaigns fail to pack punch for teens

Dec. 20, 2001, midnight | By Katie Jentleson | 19 years, 1 month ago

If anyone noticed a sharp gust of second-hand smoke in early October, it was probably the big boys of America's cigarette corporations heaving a sigh of relief as this year's National Household Survey revealed that there has been a 33 percent decrease in teen smoking. The cigarette companies of America will grasp this positive statistic in an attempt to immunize themselves from liability for targeting teen smokers. But while more teens are snuffing their tobacco addictions, the cigarette companies have continued in their attempts to hook teens, and the 2,145 teens who start smoking each day are generally undeterred by the nation's half-hearted anti-smoking advertising campaigns.

In 1998, the Supreme Court ordered the cigarette manufacturers of America to pay $246 billion in reparations for past and present civil suits filed against them to 46 state attorney generals. This settlement attempted to streamline the thousands of civil suits which have been filed against the cigarette companies concerning injustices such as false advertising. Part of the deal was that the companies could no longer "take any action, directly or indirectly, to target youth" through their advertising.

However, in a study published in August 2001 by The New England Journal of Medicine, researchers have found that cigarette companies like Phillip Morris, R.J. Reynolds and Loril have actually spent more money to advertise brands like Marlboro, Camel and Newport in magazines with heavy youth readership such as Rolling Stone and Sports Illustrated.

It seems unlikely that cigarette manufacturers will ever cease their predation on the youth of America; black lungs mean little to companies so concerned with profit. Consequently, the only hope for effectively combating teen smoking lies in the hands of the states. The mammoth settlement of 1998 left the states with a large pot of money and the decision of how best to use it. But according to USA Today, only eight percent of the initial payments are being used to fund anti-smoking efforts, and only six of the states are spending what the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDCAP) cites as the minimum to run an effective anti-smoking program. The result: a slew of hackneyed public service announcements whose trite messages barely graze the consciences of most teens.

Take, for example, an advertisement set at a party where a young girl catches the eye of a boy across the room. When she pulls out a cigarette, she transforms into a blowfish. Ads like this one trivialize the issue of teen smoking by perpetuating the idea that smoking can define how cool you are.

However, some anti-smoking campaigns, like "Infect: truth," created and sponsored by Florida, one of the six states spending the CDCAP's prescribed minimum, succeed in portraying the deadly consequences of tobacco. Recently the "Infect: truth" campaign has produced a new advertisement which shows footage of pedestrians stopping to observe a grave on an urban sidewalk. At the end of the commercial, a young child reads from the tombstone: "Every day, tobacco kills 1,070 more people than auto accidents." After running this campaign for only two years, Florida has reversed its smoking trend and experienced a 40 percent decrease in middle school smokers alone, according to USA Today.

In order for other states to follow suit, they must invest more money in anti-smoking campaigns by using the resources provided by the 1998 settlement. More hard-hitting anti-smoking campaigns need to be implemented, as opposed to ones which liken teen smokers to blowfish. Give teenagers the truth. It's the only way they'll listen.

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Katie Jentleson. Katie Jentleson is currently a senior attending the Communication Arts Programs at Blair. This is her second year on paper although she was enrolled in Mr. Mathwin's journalism class both semesters two years ago. Katie has played field hockey and softball for the past three … More »

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