TEEN SMOKING: Program Shows 54% Decline
Bucking a national trend that shows increases in teenage smoking, cigarette use among middle school students in Florida has declined 54%, and 24% for high school students, the Washington Post reports. For middle school students, the number of smokers declined from 15% in 1999 to 9.6% in 2000, while for high school students, the number declined from 26.2% to 20.9%. Frank Panela, spokesperson for the Florida Department of Health, said, "Ours is a very aggressive, youth-driven and in-your-face campaign, and these numbers show what kind of impact you can have. If it worked in Florida, I don't see why it wouldn't work elsewhere." Florida's campaign is backed by $200 million from the state's settlement with tobacco companies to compensate for costs of treating the health problems of smokers. It features a major media effort titled "thetruth" that features television advertisements attacking tobacco companies as "manipulative and deceitful." In one ad, a "satanic figure" hosts an awards show, giving the "demon award" to tobacco as "the year's greatest killer of young people." Florida's program has suffered a budget cut, from $70 million in its first year to $44 million this year, causing some advocates to argue that the "drop in funding will gut the program." Regardless, anti-tobacco activists are relishing the declines in teen smoking. Matthew Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, said that the Florida program is "the strongest evidence yet that aggressive comprehensive programs can make a dramatic difference in the number of our children who smoke" (Kaufman, 3/1).
Ads Only Work with Younger Teens
Almost mirroring Florida's numbers for middle and high school students, a study published in today's American Journal of Public Health reveals that anti-tobacco advertisements on television in Massachusetts "have discouraged young adolescents from starting to smoke but have had no effect on older teenagers' behavior." Researchers studied two groups of children, who ranged in age from 12-15 from the time that the state's anti- smoking campaign began. The ads had the most impact on children who were 12 or 13 years old when the campaign started and were half as likely to have started smoking as their peers. But for children who were 14 or 15 years of age when the campaign was launched the ads made no difference in whether they started smoking. The study showed that both radio and billboard advertising "seemed to have no effect on either age group." Lead author Dr. Michael Siegel of the Boston University School of Public Health said that for programs to be most effective, they must be aimed at young adolescents, who "are at a critical period when a lot of attitudes are molded. Older kids seem to be more resistant to anti-smoking messages. Once they're 15, it seems like it's too late to reach them" (Fairclough, Wall Street Journal, 3/1).
Is It The Message Or The Cost?
Another report casts doubt on the effectiveness of anti-tobacco advertising, arguing that the rising costs of cigarettes is what drives down teen smoking. According to a National Bureau of Economic Research study, the 30% increase in teen smoking from 1991 to 1997 is related to the sharp reduction in cigarettes' retail price. Study author Jonathan Gruber of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology said that while there is "some evidence" that limited access to cigarettes reduces smoking, the "cost of tobacco plays a greater role." He added that no "consistent evidence" shows that regulations against public smoking have decreased teen smoking. Instead, he argued, making smoking more expensive is the most effective way to get teenagers to quit (Business Week, March 6 issue).