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How Powerful is Cigarette Advertising? Ask a Teenager

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The likelihood your teen will start smoking could depend on how much tobacco advertising he or she sees. One Stanford University School of Medicine researcher believes store advertisements work so impressively well on teens that federal regulators should consider barring such marketing from convenience stores, gas stations and small groceries.

Lisa Henriksen, PhD, and senior scientist at Stanford’s Prevention Research Center said teens who regularly visit tobacco retail outlets where the ads are pervasive—from traditional sign and product display advertising to clocks, trash cans and register mats—were at least twice as likely to try smoking as those who rarely visited. Her research findings will be published in the August issue of Pediatrics.

The tobacco industry has waged a relentless campaign to recruit new smokers; in spite of being banned from the airwaves, cigarettes are advertised more heavily than any other product except cars. Point-of-sale advertising is the bread-and-butter of tobacco marketing. In 2006, the industry used 90 percent of its $12.5 billion marketing budget to engage consumers already at the store.

Henriksen said the teen years are when the vast majority of smokers start, and if teens make it through to adulthood without smoking, they are less likely to ever become addicted.

“One particularly nefarious aspect of advertising at convenience stores is it really normalizes the product. Think about what you buy there. Cigarettes, yes, but also soup, laundry detergent, soda, cat food — normal, everyday things. So advertising there really gives teens the impression that smoking is normal,” said Seth Ammerman, a clinical professor of adolescent medicine at Stanford who researches smoking cessation, but who was not involved in the study. “Young people are very susceptible to advertising messages. Tobacco companies understand this. They're not stupid.”

The study's publication comes just as the new federal Tobacco Regulation Law goes into effect, empowering the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to regulate the manufacturing, marketing and sale of tobacco products.

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.

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