Do tobacco adverts influence teenagers?
The more tobacco adverts a teenager sees, the more likely they are to become an addicted smoker, new research has shown.
It might sound obvious, and the mere fact that industries including tobacco companies, spend billions on promotion suggests that it pays to advertise, but the tobacco industry has repeatedly denied targeting teenagers in pro-smoking campaigns, with individual companies arguing instead that they are merely seeking to increase their market share among adult tobacco consumers.
Now Matthis Morganstern, from the Institute for Therapy and Health Research in Kiel, Germany, has produced the most damning evidence yet that, regardless of who the tobacco industry say they are targeting, their adverts appear to be triggering teens to take up the habit.
Writing in the journal BMJ Open, the German team followed up during a 30 month period over 1300 - initially non-smoking - adolescents recruited from 29 schools.
At the start of the study, the students were asked if they recalled seeing, and how frequently, images of adverts used recently by tobacco companies.
Advertisements for neutral products like confectionary, gadgets and clothes were also included as controls.
The researchers then re-questioned the participants 30 months later to examine their smoking habits. Since being recruited, 33% had tried smoking, 10% had smoked in the preceding 30 days, 5% reported smoking more than 100 cigarettes and 5% reported being regular, daily smokers.
Plotting these smoking habits against the numbers of self-reported contacts with tobacco advertising, and controlling for social and other factors, the team found a highly significant association.
For every 10 tobacco-ad contacts reported, there was a 38% increase in the likelihood of an individual subsequently taking up smoking.
This, Morganstern emphasises, is strong evidence that tobacco promotion is associated with teenagers taking up the habit "and it should be banned outright."