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Youth Still Overexposed To Smoking And Drinking Ads

September 27, 2010

A group of doctors said that despite severe restrictions on tobacco advertising, youths are still overexposed to media depicting smoking and drinking in a favorable light.

“We are 65,000 pediatricians who are vitally concerned with the health of children,” Dr. Victor Strasburger of the American Academy of Pediatrics told Reuters Health.

“With nearly half of kids at least trying smoking, and with more than 400,000 Americans dying every year from tobacco, the academy feels it is really time to ban all tobacco advertising.”

The academy published the policy statement in its journal Pediatrics on Monday.  The statement also recommended limiting alcohol advertising and exposure of children to PG-13 and R-rated movies.

The study found that over $25 billion are spent every year on advertising tobacco, alcohol and prescription drugs.

“Parents have gotten caught up with all the hard drugs — cocaine, steroids — but they fail to realize that tobacco and alcohol are still by far the leading drugs among teenagers,” Strasburger, also of the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, told Reuters Health.

The U.S. Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention said that about 46 million Americans smoke.  Relative to the population, that number is down by over half since 1965, although millions still succumb to smoking related illnesses every year.

One in five high school students smoked cigarettes in 2007. 

Strasburger said that banning tobacco ads and promotions in all media worked and had decreased smoking rates in other countries like the U.K. and Australia.

“At its most fundamental level, we agree with the academy,” Maura Payne, a spokeswoman for Reynolds American Inc., the second largest U.S. tobacco company, told Reuters. “Kids shouldn’t smoke.”

She said that the bulk of industry advertising was not advertising, but price discounts.

She said that advertising in a traditional sense is limited to password-protected websites, in-store ads, adult smokers who have requested to be on a mailing list and magazines with a readership of at least 85 percent adults.

Payne added that these ads are not meant to get more people hooked.

“Because the number of adults who smoke is declining every year, the name of the game is brand switching,” she told Reuters Health.

However, even if advertising is restricted, exposure to smoking is still common in the media.  The study authors said that three-quarters of G-, PG-, and PG-13-rated movies contain smoking scenes.

Strasburger told Reuters Health that several studies suggest smoking on television and in movies is a key factor in getting teens to pick up the habit.

“Parents need to understand that kids are spending seven hours a day with media and that the media have become one of the leading drug educators today,” he said.

The academy recommends removing televisions from children’s bedrooms and limiting access to channels with “excessive substance use depictions” like MTV, HBO, Showtime and Comedy Central.

That might also help cutting down on exposure to alcohol ads.  The authors said, “A sample of 9- to 10-year-olds could identify the Budweiser frogs nearly as frequently as they could Bugs Bunny.”

They also say advertisements for prescription medicines like the erectile dysfunction drug Viagra are far too common on television compared to ads for condoms, which many networks do not air.

“Children and teenagers get the message that there is a pill to cure all ills and a drug for every occasion, including sexual intercourse,” they write.

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