NEW ORLEANS--Intensive research into cigarette smoking behaviors has offered a glimpse into the minds of many young smokers. A recent survey shows that most preadolescent smokers already have a favorite brand, suggesting that they are highly affected by the tobacco industry's $5 billion annual marketing budget.
The director of Cancer Prevention and Control at the University of California, San Diego, says that advertising is consistently effective in encouraging adolescents to start smoking. In fact, receptiveness to tobacco advertising is a much stronger factor than exposure to other smokers in predicting who becomes susceptible to smoking, John Pierce, PhD, said at the American Cancer Society Science Writers Seminar.
Almost all smokers begin the process while underage, he said. In California, the age of first experimentation is 8 to 16 years, with 16 the average age of starting to smoke regularly. Most young smokers will smoke for 17 to 20 years, even though 80% will start trying to quit in their 20s.
If adolescents can stop smoking before their early 30s, they can avoid many of the individual health consequences. But even among those who make many attempts to quit, only half will be able to quit before these consequences start to become obvious, he said.
In smoking cessation, he added, the crucial time mark occurs at 3 months after quitting. Smokers who have quit for less than that time have an 80% relapse rate. This drops to 40% for those quit for 3 months and to around 12% to 15% for those who manage not to smoke for a year.
As with other behaviors among adolescents, peer influence is important in beginning to smoke; however, it appears to be strongest during the "promotion" stage, after children have already experimented with cigarettes and are moving toward addiction, Dr. Pierce said.
Strong tobacco marketing, in fact, can double the chance that a teenager will smoke. Receptiveness to marketing is clear: 70% of smokers only 10 to 12 years old already have a favorite brand; 30% of teenagers own a tobacco promotional product, such as a T-shirt. "The strongest impact of tobacco advertising appears to be in getting our children started on the uptake process," he said.