March 15th, 2010
08:40 AM ET
By John Bonifield
A new study in the journal Pediatrics says that the R.J. Reynolds tobacco company may have influenced underage girls to start smoking by effectively marketing a brand of cigarettes to them.
Cigarette manufacturers aren't supposed to be targeting their ads at young teens - girls or boys. In 1998, the tobacco industry said it wouldn't direct advertising at underage youth. So, what happened here?
The controversial ads were for R.J. Reynold's Camel No. 9 cigarettes. The ads, which were featured in popular women’s magazines like Glamour, Lucky and Vogue back in 2007, look a lot like the pages of a glitzy fashion magazine. The cigarettes are featured right alongside a beautiful dress, shoes, jewelry and a purse - the kinds of items that you might expect teen girls to find glamorous and appealing.
"The ads had a lot imagery that is girl-like," says Cheryl Healton with the American Legacy Foundation, an anti-tobacco advocacy group. "Shocking pink on the packaging. Describing the cigarettes as light and luscious. Making them almost like candy."
In the study, girls were asked over the course of several years, "What is the name of the cigarette brand of your favorite cigarette advertisement?" In 2004, 10 percent of girls chose Camel as their favorite brand. In 2008, a year after R.J. Reynolds launched its new campaign, nearly 22 percent of girls chose Camel as their favorite brand.
"The majority of these kids had not reported a favorite ad before," says the study's lead author, John Pierce with the University of Southern California-San Diego's Moores Cancer Center.
This finding has public health officials concerned because studies have found that kids who can tell you the name of the brand of their favorite cigarette ad are 50 percent more likely to take up smoking in the next three years, according to Healton.
The R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company tells CNN that it "adheres to numerous restrictions on how it markets its tobacco products and does not take any action to target youth." The company's statement goes on to say, "Camel No. 9 was developed in response to female adult smokers...who were asking for a product that better reflected their taste preferences and style." R.J. Reynolds says it has not run any print advertising for cigarettes, including Camel No. 9, for more than two years. It also says there has been no in-store advertising for Camel No. 9 since 2008.
Pierce, however, says the damage has been done. He estimates Camel's ad campaign may have influenced 174,000 underage girls to start smoking.
"The company made a commitment they wouldn't go after kids," says Pierce. "The question is, are they targeting young adults or young teens, and a lot of people are saying it's targeting young teens."
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