Edgy anti-tobacco ads discourage youth from smoking, but tamer anti-tobacco ads from tobacco giants do not, according to a new study.
“Whereas exposure to the ‘truth’ campaign positively changed youths’ attitudes toward tobacco, the Philip Morris campaign had a counterproductive influence,” concluded the study published in the June issue of the American Journal of Public Health.
The study was commissioned by the American Legacy Foundation, an organization founded in 1998 as part of the Master Settlement Agreement between 46 U.S. states, 5 U.S. territories and the tobacco industry. ALF launched an edgy, anti-smoking campaign called “truth” in February 2000.
The new study compared effects of youths’ exposure to “truth” ads, and Philip Morris’ “Think. Don’t Smoke.” ads, launched in 1998.
Researchers analyzed two telephone surveys of 12- to 17-year-olds, the first conducted prior to the “truth” launch, and the second conducted 10 months into the campaign.
The percentage of those surveyed reporting “awareness of any tobacco countermarketing campaign” doubled during the first 10 months of the “truth” ads, from 23.6 percent to 45.6 percent.
And, “the percentage of youths who held anti-tobacco attitudes and beliefs increased by an amount that ranged from 6.6 percent to 25.4 percent during the first 10 months of the campaign.”
Interestingly, the study also found that “those exposed to Philip Morris advertisements were more likely to be open to the idea of smoking.”
The study concluded that “truth” ads resonated with youths more than the “Think. Don’t Smoke” ads, even though the latter campaign “began in 1998 and aired for more than 12 months before the initial 10-month run” of the “truth” ads.
“If you look at truth ads you’ll see the toll that tobacco plays on the lives of smokers,” the study’s lead author, Matthew Farrelly, told Associated Press. “You won’t see statistics about the toll of tobacco” in Philip Morris ads.
Howard Willard, senior vice president of youth smoking prevention at Philip Morris, told AP that Philip Morris’ anti-smoking strategies are based on extensive research. He also cited a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showing that high school smokers have declined from 36.4 percent in 1997 to 28.5 percent currently.
“We believe that our advertisements are one of a number of factors that are contributing to that decline,” Willard told AP.
But Cheryl Healton, president and CEO of ALF, disagreed.
“The results are in and the evidence is clear,” she said at a press conference about the new study ALF commissioned. “Philip Morris’ ‘Think. Don’t Smoke’ effort parades as a youth anti-smoking campaign, but it’s really a wolf in sheep’s clothing.”