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Antismoking Ads Have Best Influence on Youngest Teens

Televised anti-tobacco advertisements paid for by the Massachusetts health department have discouraged young adolescents from starting to smoke but have had no effect on older teenagers' behavior, according to two Boston researchers.

In a study to be published today in the American Journal of Public Health, the researchers studied a group of children who were 12 or 13 years old when the state's anti-smoking ad campaign started in 1993. Four years later, the researchers found that the children who had been regularly exposed to the state's antitobacco TV spots were half as likely to have started smoking as their peers who saw the ads less frequently. <

The researchers also tracked a group of teens who were 14 or 15 years old when the state launched its now-six-year-old campaign. Exposure to the ads made no difference in whether or not that group started smoking. The study also says that radio and billboard advertising seemed to have no effect on either age group.

The study -- authored by Michael Siegel, a physician at the Boston University School of Public Health, and Lois Biener, a University of Massachusetts researcher -- is significant because it gauges the effects on children of a state-wide antismoking campaign over an extended time period.

The study was funded by grants from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Massachusetts health department.

The results likely will be examined by state governments, which are weighing the effectiveness of various youth anti-smoking efforts. There has been considerable debate over what kind of advertisements work best.

Gregory Connolly, director of the Massachusetts tobacco-control program, said the study shows that "a series of ads, tied in with a comprehensive education program, is going to keep kids from smoking. Every state legislature in the country should take note."

To be most effective, antitobacco ads must be aimed at young adolescents, who "are at a critical period when a lot of attitudes are molded, " said Dr. Siegel. "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."

 

Gordon Fairclough, The Wall Street Journal. March 1, 2000

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