Objectives: This investigation examined whether, despite the Tobacco Institute's Voluntary Cigarette Advertising and Promotion Code, current cigarette print advertising communicates culturally positive messages to youth about smoking.
Methods: Nine hundred thirteen students in grades 6-8 (ages 10-15) were shown a sample of four contemporary cigarette print ads (Camel, Marlboro, Newport, and Virginia Slims) and completed structured written assessments designed to capture their perceptions of each ad.
Results: Across the four ads, between 37% and 84% of the students reported that the ads communicated to them that smoking will make people popular, cool, successful in life, sexy, attractive, and healthy. Sizeable percentages of students reported that the ads show people using the product in an "exaggerated" way, and that what people in the ads are doing requires "exercise and physical energy." The median estimated age of the models in the ads was under age 25 for four out of the six models.
Conclusions: As perceived by adolescents, current cigarette print advertising violates basic tenets of the Voluntary Code, thus bringing into question the tobacco industry's ability to self-regulate image advertising. These findings suggest that the FDA ruling to prohibit image advertising for tobacco in publications with significant youth readership deserves serious consideration.