Background: The tobacco industry increased the portion of its marketing budget for sales promotion to $2.5 billion in 1993. Although it claims not to target those under age 18 years, it is important to determine the extent to which adolescents are affected as participation may lead to smoking initiation.
Methods: California population surveys, conducted in 1993 among youth ages 12-17 years (N = 5,531) and in 1994 among both youth (N = 1,735) and adults (N = 4,170), asked questions regarding possession and willingness to use promotional items.
Results: In 1994, young adults (18-24 years) were the most likely to possess a promotional item (27.5 +/- 4.1, +/- 95% confidence limit). However, willingness to use an item was highest among those ages 15-17 years (35.4 +/- 3.4%) and was also high among those ages 12-14 years (24.4 +/- 2.7%). Among youth, ownership or willingness to use promotional items was more likely for boys, whites, those reporting below average school performance, and those smoking or susceptible to smoking. Youth ownership of promotional items increased from 1993 to 1994, as did the frequency of their obtaining items from coupons.
Conclusions: Promotional marketing undertaken by the tobacco industry was effective in capturing the interest of adolescents, although actual acquisition was highest among young adults. The rapidly increasing interest in tobacco promotional items from 1993 to 1994 may soon translate into increased adolescent smoking rates.