UT Professor: Smokeless Tobacco Ads Still Target Youth

Despite a 1998 settlement designed to limit the marketing of smokeless tobacco to youth, tobacco companies are still getting their message out, according to a study led by a UT Knoxville advertising professor.

Margaret Morrison, associate professor in the School of Advertising and Public Relations, was lead author on the study, "Under the Radar: Smokeless Tobacco Advertising in Magazines With Substantial Youth Readership." It appeared in an online issue of the American Journal of Public Health and is scheduled to appear in the March 2008 print version of the journal.

Tobacco leaves"Despite the fact that we have guidelines in place for smokeless tobacco advertising designed to protect minors from being overly exposed to these messages, they are still getting to a substantial number of youth," Morrison said. "Our study is one of the first to look at this topic, and it provides a baseline for assessing youth exposure levels and monitoring the smokeless tobacco industry."

Among the magazines containing prevalent smokeless tobacco advertising: Rolling Stone, Spin, Sports Illustrated, Sporting News and Outdoor Life.

In 1998, major cigarette producers signed the Master Settlement Agreement with the attorneys general from 46 states. Among other things, the settlement called for the elimination of billboard advertising, cartoons in tobacco advertising and marketing to youth. The 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 Co., the largest smokeless tobacco manufacturer.

For their study, Morrison and co-authors Dean Krugman, professor in the University of Georgia Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication, and Pumsoon Park, a lecturer at Hongik University in South Korea, examined 10 years’ worth of popular magazines for readership data and smokeless tobacco advertising. They paid particular attention to advertising in magazines with high readership among youth ages 12 to 17.

Their findings: The STSMA’s advertising ban has had little effect on smokeless tobacco advertising aimed at youth.

"Both before and after the agreement, smokeless tobacco companies advertised in magazines with high adolescent readership," Morrison and her co-authors wrote.

In 1993 – five years before the advertising restrictions went into effect – smokeless tobacco advertising in magazines reached 66 percent of youth ages 12 to 17. In 2002 – four years after the limitations were imposed, and the last year for which figures were available – the ads reached 64 percent of adolescents.

The researchers found that smokeless tobacco advertising in magazines increased in the first year after the STSMA went into effect, reaching 83 percent of adolescents. Exposure dropped sharply to 57 percent in 2000, but rates have since risen steadily.

The researchers suggest that the actions of smokeless tobacco manufacturers have gone largely unnoticed because research and policymaking have centered on the consequences of cigarette smoking, which involves more intense marketing efforts. However, smokeless tobacco advertising shouldn’t be ignored because smokeless tobacco use can lead to cancers of the mouth, pharynx, larynx and esophagus, damage to gum tissue, and loss of teeth.

Morrison served as a paid consultant, and Krugman has served as an expert witness to the U.S. Department of Justice regarding adolescents and cigarette advertising.

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