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Awareness, analysis of tobacco advertising may go long way (baby) to prevent teen smoking

Most smokers pick up the habit as adolescents, drawn to cigarettes, in part, by advertisements featuring attractive models in playful poses, or cool movie characters whose mystique is enhanced by the fact that they smoke. Teens would be less likely to smoke by learning to view ads and other types of media more analytically, the results of a study in the current issue of Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine suggest.

The study provides some of the first quantitative evidence that training teens about the messages and motivations behind various types of media has the potential to reduce teen smoking. Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine developed a scale to measure smoking media literacy (SML), or the ability to analyze and evaluate the messages, motivations and tactics behind advertisements and other mass media portrayals of tobacco, and found that the results correlated with teens' current smoking patterns, intentions to smoke and attitudes about smoking.

Surprisingly, association between SML and smoking behaviors was stronger, in some cases, than other known predictors, such as socioeconomic status, parental smoking and stress.

"Many of the other factors that influence smoking behaviors are things that we cannot control," said Brian Primack, M.D., Ed.M., assistant professor in the school's division of general internal medicine, and lead author of the study. "Media literacy is one of the few areas in which we can actively affect change."

More than 1,200 suburban Pittsburgh high school students who participated in the study were assigned scores ranging from 0-10 based on their responses to an 18-item survey. Students responded to statements such as, "When people make movies and TV shows, every camera shot is very carefully planned," "Most movies and TV shows that show people smoking make it look more attractive than it really is," and "Advertisements usually leave out a lot of important information,
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3-Apr-2006


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