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Impact of Smoking Ads on Children

A big part of keeping children smoke free is to attack tobacco’s advertising capabilities. Children have malleable minds that are easily shaped by external influences; they soak them up like a sponge, storing up the behaviors and habits that will characterize their adult life. Thus, children are much more responsive to images, cartoons, and advertising campaigns than are adults. For as long as tobacco has been advertising, they have associated smoking with independence, sophistication, beauty, and fun. While these concepts primarily target teens and adults, children are often left absorbing, consciously or unconsciously, that smoke free is not the way to be if you want to be in the in-crowd or achieve success.

While tobacco companies have always maintained that they do not target children specifically, these claims were put to the test during the 10 years that Camel’s Joe Camel reigned over billboards, t-shirts, and cigarette packages across the globe. Joe Camel seemed almost a deliberate attempt at keeping children from pursuing smoke free lifestyles; according to a 1991 report by the Journal of the American Medical Association, children were able to match pictures of Joe Camel with a cigarette just as often as they were able to match Mickey Mouse with the Disney logo. Yikes. Joe Camel’s cartoon images had imprinted into the minds of many children during the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, and the AMA study showed just how integrated he had become with the fabric of society.

It’s hard to stay smoke free if cigarettes have a cartoon just as identifiable as Mickey Mouse, and this line of reasoning ultimately led to the abolition of Joe Camel. But Big Tobacco advertising remains, and so does its tie to leading children away from smoke free lifestyles. Children and adolescents are more than twice as likely to light up a cigarette from one of the three most advertised tobacco brands, Marlboro, Camel, and Newport, and a 2011 study conducted by the Dartmouth Medical School concludes that “specific images from tobacco ads predict” and encourage smoking among teenagers and children.

Though there is plenty of evidence that supports the claim that tobacco advertising leads children away from smoke free lifestyles, there are still many skeptics, and many are not card-carrying members of Big Tobacco. For example, a lot has been done, particularly in Australia and New Zealand, to eradicate the power of tobacco advertising, and still smoking is on the rise. The skeptics of tobacco advertising’s influence on children are correct that advertising is not the only factor in keeping children smoke free; it is up to parents and educators to talk to kids about the dangers of tobacco use, and to be good role models themselves by refraining from smoking in front of their children. A parent’s influence is more powerful than any advertisement. Additionally, remaining smoke free is ultimately a choice that each individual must face, a choice not to engage in the bad habit, but instead choose a smoke free lifestyle.

Therefore, it is important to combine restrictions on tobacco advertising with personal responsibility-both contribute to the delicate balance of influencing children to remain smoke free. A big part of keeping children smoke free is to attack tobacco’s advertising capabilities. Children have malleable minds that are easily shaped by external influences; they soak them up like a sponge, storing up the behaviors and habits that will characterize their adult life. Thus, children are much more responsive to images, cartoons, and advertising campaigns than are adults. For as long as tobacco has been advertising, they have associated smoking with independence, sophistication, beauty, and fun. While these concepts primarily target teens and adults, children are often left absorbing, consciously or unconsciously, that smoke free is not the way to be if you want to be in the in-crowd or achieve success.

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Hi Maureen. Just a quick note to say thank you. I have not had even a puff of cigarette since our session on 10 May 14. Any desire or thought flits straight out again. This is certainly a much less painful way to stop smoking. I recommend you to anyone who is interested, even had someone ask about weight loss. Hope all is well for you.  Regards
Gail Wilshire

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