Tobacco Cos.’ Pledge Shows Little Effect

BOSTON — An agreement by the four largest tobacco companies in 1998 not to target young people in marketing campaigns appears to have had little effect on cigarette advertisements by the four in magazines and on the exposure of young people to those advertisements.

That’s the conclusion of a study scheduled for release in Thursday’s New England Journal of Medicine.

In 1998 the attorneys general of 46 states signed the agreement with R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Holdings Inc. (RJR), Brown&Williamson (BTI), Lorillard Tobacco Co. and Philip Morris Cos. (MO) as part of a settlement of a lawsuit brought by the government against the tobacco companies.

Under that pact, the tobacco companies agreed not to target people younger than 18 in their advertisements.

But according to an analysis of 15 cigarette brands in 38 magazines between 1995 and 2000, cigarette advertising actually climbed dramatically in 1999, the year following the agreement, the study reported.

In their paper titled “The Master Settlement Agreement with the Tobacco Industry and Cigarette Advertising in Magazines,” the researchers pointed out that advertising of brands favored by teens in youth-oriented magazines climbed 15% to $67.4 million in 1999 from $58.5 million in 1998. Meanwhile, overall cigarette advertising in magazines jumped 33% to $291.1 million from $219.3 million over the same period.

In 2000 tobacco advertising declined 12% to $59.6 million in youth magazines and 25% overall to $216.9 million, compared to the prior year. But the study noted that expenditure levels in 2000 were still above that of 1995 — a pre-settlement watermark — when companies spent $56.7 million and $238.2 million in the respective categories.

“The settlement says tobacco companies cannot ‘target’ youth in advertising,” said Dr. Michael Siegel, a Boston University School of Public Health researcher who led the study. “But unfortunately the document doesn’t really define what it means by ‘target,”‘ he added.

The study classifies a publication as youth-oriented if more than 15% or two million of its readers, whichever figure is greater, are under 18. These are generally accepted guidelines followed by media-research firms.

Under those guidelines, magazines such as Sports Illustrated, Elle, Mademoiselle, TV Guide, People and Rolling Stone are viewed as youth-oriented, and publications such as Ladies Home Journal, Family Circle, Time and Newsweek are adult-oriented.

By definition of the study, a cigarette is considered a youth brand if it is preferred by more than 5% of smokers in the 8th, 10th and 12th grades. Under that definition, Camel, Marlboro and Newport are viewed as youth brands, and brands such as Benson&Hedges, Kool, Salem, Virginia Slims are considered adult-oriented.

While there have been numerous reports about an increase in youth-targeted cigarette ads since the 1998 settlement, the researchers note that theirs is the first to provide a detailed breakdown of expenditures by brand, cigarette companies and magazines.

In conclusion the study noted that “no effort to reduce smoking among young people or other groups will succeed without a complete understanding of the entire marketing programs of tobacco companies.”

Nationwide, cigarette smoking among youth declined to 31.4% in 2000 from 35.1% in 1998, according to the University of Michigan, which conducts annual surveys. But the decline is a reflection mostly of an increase in the cost of cigarettes, said Matthew L. Myers, a researcher for the National Center for Tobacco-Free Kids who authored an accompanying editorial in the NEJM.

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