Tobacco Industry Youth Programs Are Smokescreen

May 29, 2002
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The tobacco industry's own documents show that most youth smoking prevention programs it has supported are designed to promote industry political and marketing aims rather than to reduce smoking, according to researchers who analyzed nearly 500 industry documents.

The analysis, published in the June issue of the American Journal of Public Health, found no evidence that the industry's youth programs ever discussed nicotine addiction or identified other dangers of smoking. Rather, they often stressed the "adult" choice that smoking constitutes, a theme that one key internal Tobacco Institute document said with some hope "might prevent or delay further regulation of the tobacco industry."

The researchers analyzed documents made available by tobacco litigation during the 1990s. They conclude that tobacco industry youth programs do more harm than good to efforts to reduce cigarette smoking. They further suggest that the tobacco industry "should not be allowed to run or directly fund youth smoking prevention programs."

Lead author is Anne Landman, tobacco document researcher at the American Lung Association of Colorado. Senior author is Stanton Glantz, professor of medicine and a director of the Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education, Institute for Health Policy Studies at UCSF. Co-author is Dr. Pamela M. Ling, a postdoctoral fellow at UCSF's Center for AIDS Prevention.

One piece of evidence that the youth programs were designed to serve the industry's political aims comes from a 1991 Philip Morris document stating that the success of the "youth initiatives" would be determined by whether they led to a "reduction in legislation introduced and passed restricting or banning our sales and marketing activities" as well as "passage of legislation favorable to the industry," the authors report.

Although the expressed goal of the youth smoking prevention programs is to discourage youth from taking up the smoking habit, the researchers could find no evidence in any documents of industry studies to evaluate the program's success in achieving this goal.

Instead, the authors state, the industry assessed in great detail the public relations and legislative outcomes associated with its youth smoking prevention programs. In the mid 1980s, for example, the Tobacco Institute asked its lobbyists to rate its youth prevention programs' value as a legislative tool. Furthermore, the kinds of information the companies gathered from participants in the youth programs were very similar to the information tobacco marketers need to sell their products to young people: lifestyle, social habits, aspirations, attitudes about smoking (or not smoking.) "The tobacco industry is aggressively expanding similar programs worldwide," Glantz stressed. "No health department or school should be fooled by the tobacco industry's `youth smoking prevention programs.' If the industry was serious about reducing youth smoking, it would stop fighting real tobacco control programs, such as those being mounted in several states and by the American Legacy Foundation."

The authors observe that the few studies that have been done on the subject conclude that tobacco industry youth prevention programs "do not prevent - and may even encourage - youth smoking."

The research was supported by the National Cancer Institute.

In a related paper in the June issue of the AJPH, Ruth Malone, assistant professor of nursing and health policy in the UCSF School of Nursing department of social and behavioral sciences, concludes from examination of documents that the tobacco industry engaged in aggressive intelligence gathering, used intermediaries to obtain material under false pretenses and covertly taped public health group strategy sessions from 1985 through the mid 1990s.

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