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Tobacco-company-sponsored parties with free cigarettes may encourage students to start smoking

A widespread tobacco industry marketing strategy sponsoring social events and giving out free cigarettes at bars, clubs, and college parties is reaching students and may be encouraging them to take up smoking, according to a new study released today. The study, part of the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) College Alcohol Study (CAS), appears in the January issue of the American Journal of Public Health. The study was led by Nancy Rigotti, MD, director of the Tobacco Research and Treatment Center of Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH).

According to the study, students at all but one of the 119 U.S. colleges and universities surveyed reported attending a tobacco-industry-sponsored social event on or off campus in 2001. Although the number of students reached at many schools was relatively small, up to 27 percent of students were reached at some schools. Overall, 8.5 percent of students had attended a tobacco-industry-sponsored social event where free cigarettes were distributed. Bars and nightclubs were the most common settings, but students also reported attending events on college campuses, a site that has received less attention and provides direct access to students.

Those who had attended these tobacco promotions were more likely to be current smokers, compared to students who had not attended an event. Perhaps most notably, the study suggested that these events could be a powerful inducement to begin smoking. Students who had not started to smoke by the age of 19 were especially likely to have become smokers by the time of the survey if they had been exposed to a tobacco promotion at a bar, nightclub, or college social event.

This is the first study that has measured young adults' exposure to a tobacco industry marketing strategy that has assumed greater prominence since the 1998 Master Settlement Agreement, in which the tobacco industry agreed not to market to teenagers, making young adults (aged 18 to 24) its you
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Contact: Julie Bergan
jbergan@partners.org
617-726-0274
Massachusetts General Hospital
28-Dec-2004


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