Cigarette ads target youth, violating $250 billion 1998 settlement

Despite an explicit ban on directing cigarette advertising at children, all three major U.S. tobacco companies selectively increased youth targeting after the prohibition was put in place in 1998 report researchers from the University of Chicago in the March/April issue of Health Affairs.

Tobacco companies exploited inconsistencies between the ban and the government's definition of youth magazines in ways that enabled the industry to reach as many young readers as ever, the researchers found. They propose that the best way to reduce the exposure of children to tobacco advertising is to ban such ads from all magazines.

"What we found was a violation of the spirit and the letter of the 1998 settlement," said Paul Chung, M.D., a Robert Wood Johnson Clinical Scholar at the University of Chicago and co-first author of the paper. "Cigarette companies had to become slightly more subtle about it, but they continue to aim their advertising at people under 18."

Tobacco companies "need to reach the youth market to survive," said co-first author Craig Garfield, M.D., also a Robert Wood Johnson Clinical Scholar at the University. Four out of five adult smokers began before age 18. About 28 percent of high school students now smoke.

Fearing thousands of separate, costly lawsuits from customers with smoke-related health problems, the major U.S. tobacco companies and 46 states signed the Master Settlement Agreement (MSA) on Nov. 23, 1998. The agreement shielded the manufacturers from future lawsuits in those states in exchange for a $250 billion payment. The MSA also placed restrictions on future tobacco advertising and cigarette sales practices.

The MSA expressly forbid tobacco companies from taking "any action, directly or indirectly, to target Youth within any Settling State in the advertising, promotion or marketing of Tobacco Products, or take any action the primary purpose of which is to initiate, maintain or inc

Contact: John Easton
University of Chicago Medical Center

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