Tobacco Industry Prevention Ads Aimed at Teens Have No Effect on Youth Smoking

    • October 30, 2006

Televised ads sponsored by tobacco companies and targeted at youth do not change teen smoking outcomes, according to a study published online today by the American Journal of Public Health. Results from the study also show that tobacco industry-sponsored prevention ads intended for parents may have harmful effects on older youth, lowering youth perceptions about the danger of smoking and increasing their likelihood of smoking.

Researchers from Bridging the Gap, a policy research program based at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) and the University of Michigan, examined youth exposure to tobacco company television advertising campaigns and how that exposure influenced several smoking-related belief and behavior outcomes. They found that across these outcomes, 8th, 10th and 12th graders were generally not influenced by exposure to tobacco industry youth-targeted ads.

This study is the first to examine how youth are affected by parent-targeted ads sponsored by the tobacco industry. Among 10th and 12th graders, higher exposure to parent-targeted ads was, on average, associated with lower perceived harm of smoking, stronger approval of smoking, stronger intentions to smoke in the future, and a greater likelihood of having smoked in the past 30 days. The National Cancer Institute, the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation funded the study.

"This research provides the clearest evidence to date that tobacco-sponsored ads don't work," said Melanie Wakefield, a UIC researcher and the study's lead author. "Tobacco-sponsored ads targeted at youth have no impact and those targeted at parents seem to have an adverse effect on students who are in their middle and later teenage years."

To arrive at their findings, Wakefield and her colleagues used Nielsen Media Research data on Targeted Ratings Points (TRPs) to measure the average reach and frequency of all smoking-related advertisements (tobacco company-sponsored ads, ads sponsored by state governments and American Legacy Foundation tobacco control ads) among 12-17 year olds. They focused on smoking-related ads that appeared on network and cable television in the largest 75 U.S. media markets from 1999 to 2002.

The researchers compared the extent of youth advertising exposure to survey data from samples of 8th, 10th and 12th graders in the contiguous 48 states collected during 1999-2002. The nationally representative youth data, collected by the University of Michigan Monitoring the Future study, measured student characteristics, smoking-related attitudes and beliefs, and self-reported tobacco use. The final sample size for the report was 103,172 students.

In analyzing the data, researchers adjusted their analysis for factors other than tobacco company prevention ads that might have had an effect on levels of youth smoking. Those additional factors include smoking laws, cigarette prices and other televised advertising about not smoking.

Bridging the Gap, which is funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, is a joint project of ImpacTeen, a program of the University of Illinois at Chicago's Institute for Health Research and Policy, and Youth Education and Society (YES!), a program of the University of Michigan's Institute for Social Research. Bridging the Gap improves understanding of the role of policy and environmental factors in youth alcohol, illicit drug, and tobacco use, as well as diet and physical activity, to evaluate their effectiveness in reducing substance use and obesity among youth. For more information, visit and

The National Cancer Institute, part of the National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, is the federal government's principal agency for cancer research and training. For more information, visit

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) is a component of the National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. NIDA supports most of the world's research on the health aspects of drug abuse and addiction. The Institute carries out a large variety of programs to ensure the rapid dissemination of research information and its implementation in policy and practice. Fact sheets on the health effects of drugs of abuse and information on NIDA research and other activities can be found on the NIDA Web site at

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation focuses on the pressing health and health care issues facing our country. As the nation's largest philanthropy devoted exclusively to improving the health and health care of all Americans, the Foundation works with a diverse group of organizations and individuals to identify solutions and achieve comprehensive, meaningful and timely change. For more than 30 years the Foundation has brought experience, commitment, and a rigorous, balanced approach to the problems that affect the health and health care of those it serves. Helping Americans lead healthier lives and get the care they need-the Foundation expects to make a difference in our lifetime.