WEDNESDAY, Nov. 1, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- Anti-smoking ads on television produced by tobacco companies and aimed at parents may actually be encouraging children to start smoking, a new research paper reports.
"The tobacco companies are up to their old tricks," said Danny McGoldrick, director of research at the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. "Anyone who thinks that the tobacco companies have reformed are kidding themselves."
McGoldrick was not involved in the study, which was led by researchers at The Cancer Council Victoria in Melbourne, Australia.
They looked at television ratings data from 75 media markets in the United States. The team specifically looked at average exposure to tobacco company-sponsored anti-smoking ads, both those targeted to youths and others targeted to parents. Some of these ads featured titles such as "Think. Don't Smoke" and "Tobacco Is Whacko If You're a Teen."
The researchers also looked over data from a U.S. national school-based survey from more than 100,000 children from 1999 to 2002.
The report was published in the Oct. 31 online edition of the American Journal of Public Health.
The researchers found that, among young children, there weren't many links between exposure to tobacco company ads and smoking attitudes and behavior.
However, among high school students, seeing parent-targeted ads was associated with kids expressing a lowered sense of smoking as harmful, a stronger approval of smoking, stronger intentions to smoke in the future and a greater likelihood of having smoked in the past 30 days, the researchers found.
The authors noted that, according to recent testimony, this appears to be just what one tobacco company intended.
"During questioning at a trial, Carolyn Levy, director of Philip Morris youth smoking prevention programs, admitted that the aim of their programs was to delay smoking until age 18. This contrasts with the aims of public health-funded programs, which are to encourage people to never take up smoking," the authors wrote.
"In summary, our analysis suggests that tobacco company youth- and parent-targeted smoking prevention advertising campaigns confer no benefit to youths, and especially for older teens, parent-targeted advertising may have harmful relations," they concluded.
David Sutton, a spokesman for Philip Morris USA, refused to comment on the validity of the Australian study.
Sutton noted, however, that the company's current anti-smoking ads are indeed directed at parents.
"Many experts say that parents are the greatest single influence on their children's decision not to smoke," he said.
Two industry critics see these "anti-smoking" ad campaigns as just another way to promote smoking.
"These results are very important because they demonstrate that the tobacco company's nominal 'youth smoking prevention' programs do not prevent kids from smoking," said Stanton A. Glantz, a professor of medicine at the Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education at the University of California, San Francisco.
"These programs, like earlier similar efforts by the tobacco industry, simply serve the industry's public relations needs and support their political efforts to displace meaningful tobacco control," Glantz said. "The industry should immediately suspend these programs."
The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids' McGoldrick agreed.
"The tobacco companies should pull these campaigns immediately," he said. "The tobacco companies should stay away from our kids."
The findings were published the same day that American researchers reported that high-tech ventilation systems often used in smoky venues are no match for secondhand smoke.
Based on tests conducted during the study, "dining in a restaurant or bar's nonsmoking section does not significantly reduce exposure to smoke-related pollutants, even in those few establishments that use these sophisticated, expensive ventilation systems," study co-author James Repace, an adjunct professor at Tufts University School of Medicine and a secondhand smoke consultant, said in a prepared statement.
His report was published in the Oct. 31 online edition of AQ Applications.
The bottom line, according to Repace: "Smoking bans remain the only viable option that protects the health of nonsmokers and hospitality workers."
Effective ways to help keep kids from cigarettes can be found at the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.