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Advertising and Children's Use of Tobacco

Did you know?
  • In 2002, the major cigarette companies spent $12.5 billion ($34.2 million/day) on advertising. That is an increase of 11% from 2001 and an 85% increase since 1998 when the companies agreed to stop some marketing strategies in the 1998 tobacco lawsuit agreement with various states (Federal Trade Commission, 2004).
  • The major portion of cigarette marketing dollars (63.2%) was paid to retailers and wholesalers to reduce the price of cigarettes to consumers, one of the main reasons (high prices) teens give for giving up smoking (Federal Trade Commission, 2004)
  • Another $1.06 billion was spent on promotions involving free cigarettes, store displays, and payments to facilitate the sale of cigarettes. This adds up to 77.5% of marketing dollars that major cigarette companies spend. A major portion of these dollars are spent at the retail (convenience) store level, where teens are most likely to visit (Federal Trade Commission, 2004)
  • Each day in the United States, nearly 4,000 children under the age of eighteen start smoking. As a result more than 6.4 million children living today will die an early tobacco related death (Centers for Disease Control, 2004).
  • In 2002, 22.9% (down from a high of a high of 36%) of high school students in the United States are smoke cigarettes. This is a significant drop in the rates from 2000. The rates did not fall significantly among middle school students, however, 10.1% of whom smoke cigarettes (Centers for Disease Control, 2004).
  • Approximately eight out of ten of adult smokers started smoking when they were adolescents (Centers for Disease Control, 2004). Nicotine addiction is more likely to occur when first use occurs at a young age (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 2004).
  • An estimated 11% of high school boys are smokeless tobacco users. These teens will be more likely to become cigarette smokers (Centers for Disease Control Fact Sheet, 2004).
  • Children and teens who use tobacco are less fit and have more lung related illnesses than their peers who do not smoke. A smoker's lungs declines faster than a nonsmoker's (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2004).
  • Adolescents who smoke are more likely to use other tobacco products, alcohol, and illicit drugs than teen who do not smoke (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 2004).
What's Happening

Nicotine in the bloodstream is quickly absorbed, reaching the brain in 30 seconds, causing the brain to release dopamine, the "feel good" neurotransmitter. Nicotine in the teenage brain causes an increase in the number of nicotine docking stations so the brain quickly adapts to the presence of nicotine and reacts negatively when it is absent. Thus teens become more easily addicted, more quickly since when these docking stations are empty they feel down and depressed, even angry and need to smoke again to alleviate negative feelings (Walsh, 2004).

Watch out for
  • tobacco marketing that promises luxury and fun
  • candy look alikes
  • displays giving out free gear: t-shirts and caps with logos
  • glamorized smoking in the media: TV, movies, magazines, and sports

Teens who own a tobacco promotional item and could name a brand of cigarettes were more than twice as likely to become a smoker (Biener, 2000).

Tips from the Centers for Disease Control:
  • Despite the impact of movies, music, and TV, parents can be the GREATEST INFLUENCE in their kids' lives.
  • Talk directly to children about the risks of tobacco use; if friends or relatives died from tobacco-related illnesses, let your kids know.
  • If you use tobacco, you can still make a difference. Your best move, of course, is to try to quit. Meanwhile, don't use tobacco in your children's presence, don't offer it to them, and don't leave it where they can easily get it.
  • Start the dialog about tobacco use at age 5 or 6 and continue through their high school years. Many kids start using tobacco by age 11, and many are addicted by age 14.
  • Know if your kids' friends use tobacco. Talk about ways to refuse tobacco.
  • Discuss with kids the false glamorization of tobacco on billboards, and other media, such as movies, TV, and magazines.

For more information on the National Institute on Media and the Family's anti-smoking curriculum see Smoke and Mirrors®.

  • Centers for Disease Control (2004). Tobacco Information and Prevention Source found at Accessed 11/10/04.
  • Centers for Disease Control Fact Sheet (2004). Smokeless Tobacco, found at Accessed 11/16/04.
  • Federal Trade Commission (2004). Cigarette Report for 2003 found at Accessed 11/16/04.
  • Biener, L. and Siegel M. (2000, March). Tobacco marketing and adolescent smoking: more support for a causal inference. American Journal of Public Health, 90(3), 407-11.
  • Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (2004). Results from the 2003 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: National Findings (Office of Applied Studies, NSDUH Series H-25, DHHS Publication No. SMA 04-3964). Rockville, MD. Found at Accessed 11/12/04.
  • U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (2004). The Health Consequences of Smoking: A Report of the Surgeon General. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Office on Smoking and Health. Found at Accessed 11/13/04.
  • Walsh, David, Ph.D. (2004). Why Do They Act That Way? A Survival Guide to the Adolescent Brain for You and Your Teen. Free Press, New York.

Last revised: 11/18/04

©2005 National Institute on Media and the Family.