Study: Tobacco Firms Still Target Youths

ByCatherine Valenti

Aug. 15, 2001 -- If you thought tobacco companies were backing off their efforts to target youths since their agreement with the government to curb youth advertising, think again, says a new study.

A report today in The New England Journal of Medicine says tobacco companies are targeting youths in their magazine advertising more than ever before, despite the efforts of the Master Settlement Agreement enacted in 1998.

This agreement, commonly known as the MSA, allowed tobacco companies to pay 46 states an estimated $206 billion in damages over 25 years to cover tobacco-related health costs. It also restricted tobacco advertising to people under 18 and banned outdoor advertising and cartoon images like Joe Camel in cigarette ads.

But despite this agreement, overall advertising spending for youth brands in youth-oriented magazines has increased almost 6 percent to $59.6 million in 2000 from $56.4 million in 1995, the study says.

"We believe that's strong evidence that cigarette companies are targeting kids in their advertising," says Dr. Michael Siegel, associate professor at Boston University's School of Public Health and co-author of the study. "Even if they're not intentionally doing it, it's what they're doing."

Youth Brands Highlighted

For their part, tobacco industry officials say they are being vigilant in trying to reduce youth exposure to tobacco advertising. But the study concludes these efforts haven't gone far enough.

Youth-targeted magazines that have seen a dramatic jump in cigarette ad sales for youth brands since 1995 include Rolling Stone Magazine, Mademoiselle and Premiere, according to the report. Representatives of these magazines did not return calls seeking comment.

The study defines youth brands as those smoked by more than 5 percent of the smokers in the eighth, 10th and 12th grades in 1998. Those were Marlboro, Newport and Camel.

Youth-oriented magazines are defined as those that had at least 15 percent or an average of at least 2 million of their readers between the ages of 12 to 17 years old. Many tobacco companies, like Philip Morris, use these criteria, originally proposed by the Food and Drug Administration, to help determine what constitutes a youth-oriented magazine.

Although the MSA does prohibit tobacco companies from targeting youths in their advertising, it does not set any specific guidelines regarding cigarette advertising in magazines. That's why many tobacco critics say companies are increasingly turning to this outlet to target youth audiences.

Not Just for Adults

For example, the study found that while advertising expenditures for adult brands in both adult-oriented and youth-oriented magazines have decreased since 1995, ad spending on youth brands has increased not only in youth-oriented magazines, but in adult-oriented magazines as well.

And young people can be just as likely to see youth brand advertising in adult-oriented magazines as they in youth-oriented magazines, notes Siegel.

Siegel points to Glamour magazine, which sees an average of 1.95 million youth readers, or 14.6 percent of its total audience. The magazine has also seen a sharp increase in ad revenue from youth cigarette brands. In 2000, about $4.3 million was spent on youth brand ads in the magazine, an increase of 153 percent from $1.7 million in 1995. A Glamour spokeswoman did not return a call for comment.

"It doesn't make a lot of sense to say we're not going to advertise in a magazine that has 2 million youth readers, but we will advertise in a magazine that has 1.95 million of them," says Siegel, who estimates that 57 percent of the nation's youth are exposed to the Marlboro brand through ads in adult-oriented magazines alone.

Tobacco's Response

The study does acknowledge efforts made by companies like Philip Morris and Brown & Williamson to reduce its advertising in youth-oriented magazines. Philip Morris, for example, announced in June of 2000 that it would no longer place ads in magazines that met the youth readership criteria proposed by the Food and Drug Administration. The company removed its advertising from 50 magazines as a result.

Indeed, the efforts by the two companies to a decrease in ad spending on youth brands in youth-oriented magazines from 1999 to 2000, says the study. But other companies like Camel cigarettes maker R.J. Reynolds have more relaxed standards, restricting its advertising to magazines that have 25 percent of their readership aged 18 and younger.

"The bottom line for us is that the MSA prohibits advertising that targets minors and our advertising policy fulfills the intent and the spirit of the MSA," says R.J. Reynolds spokeswoman Carole Crosslin.

A spokesman for Lorillard, which makes Newport cigarettes, called for uniform standards for youth readership levels that all tobacco companies could follow to ensure that youths aren't exposed to cigarette advertising.

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