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Depressed Teens More Likely to Light Up

An attraction to tobacco ads also fuels the risk they'll become smokers

MONDAY, April 1, 2002 (HealthDayNews) -- Teens who are depressed and receptive to the smoke-and-mirrors of tobacco advertising are more likely to try cigarettes.

That's the conclusion of a new study by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania/Georgetown University Transdisciplinary Tobacco Use Research Center (TTURC).

"This is really the first study that has looked at advertising receptivity and depression combined," says the study's senior author, Janet Audrain. She is an assistant professor at the University of Pennsylvania's department of psychiatry, and an investigator with the TTURC.

Previous research had looked at different individual factors that influence teen smoking. These factors include smoking by family members and friends, "receptivity" to advertising, and positive attitudes and beliefs about smoking, the researchers say.

The new study was funded by the U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse and the National Cancer Institute, and is published in the March issue of the Journal of Pediatric Psychology.

The researchers surveyed 1,231 ninth-grade students (48 percent male and 52 percent female) in five northern Virginia high schools. The students are participating in a four-year investigation of factors that may predict teen-age smoking.

The survey asked whether the students smoked or were exposed to other smokers, whether they were depressed, and how receptive -- or attracted -- they were to tobacco advertising.

Sixty percent (676) of the students said they'd never tried smoking, while 40 percent (443) said they had smoked at least a partial or whole cigarette. Of the second group, 127 were current smokers.

About one-third of the students said they were "highly receptive" to tobacco advertising. For example, they could name an often-advertised cigarette brand, had a favorite tobacco ad, and said they used or were willing to use a tobacco product.

The researchers found that the teens who were more receptive to tobacco advertising and had symptoms of depression were more likely to smoke than teen-agers who weren't depressed.

Among the teens who were depressed and were highly receptive to tobacco advertising, 71 percent had tried cigarettes or were currently smokers. That compared to 50 percent for the teens who were receptive to the advertising but weren't depressed.

Audrain says anti-smoking campaigns should include information about the link between depression and smoking to let psychologically vulnerable teens know that they're being manipulated by the tobacco industry.

And more research is needed to find ways to make these teen-agers less vulnerable to the tobacco pitches, she adds.

The connection between depression and tobacco advertising had been suspected, but this is the first study to offer proof, says Tom Aigner, program director for the National Institute on Drug Abuse's division of neuroscience and behavioral research.

"It [the study] could have some significant effects in terms of re-tailoring the anti-smoking campaigns," he says.

Letting teens know they're being subjected to psychological manipulation by the tobacco companies could help reduce teen smoking, Aigner says.

Three million Americans under the age of 18 smoke half a billion cigarettes each year. And each day, 3,000 U.S. teens become regular smokers, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

About 5 million of today's teens will die prematurely from smoking, leading to about $200 billion in future health-care costs, the CDC says.

What to Do: Learn more about teen-age smoking at the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

SOURCES: Janet Audrain, Ph.D., assistant professor, department of psychiatry, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia; Tom Aigner, Ph.D., program director, division of neuroscience and behavioral research, National Institute on Drug Abuse, Bethesda, Md.; March 2002 Journal of Pediatric Psychology
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