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Study Finds Being Exposed to Pro-Smoking Messages Can Increase Tobacco Use

Update Date: Nov 18, 2013 08:02 AM EST

Smoking is the number one leading cause of preventable death in the United States. Organizations and government agencies have attempted to find ways of preventing people from starting and getting smokers to quit. Despite their efforts, tobacco companies continue to advertise diligently to customers. In a new study conducted by the non-profit research organization, RAND Corporation, researchers found that exposure to one pro-smoking advertisement increases risk of tobacco use for seven full days.

"We were surprised how long the influence of pro-smoking messages lasted," said Steven Martino, a study co-author and a psychologist at RAND. "The results suggest that positive media messages about smoking are likely to influence behavior even if opportunities to smoke occur infrequently."

For this study, Martino and Claude M. Setodji, a senior statistician at RAND, recruited 134 college students from Pittsburgh, PA. The students were between the ages of 18 and 24. They were given a hand held device and were asked to keep track of how many pro-smoking messages they encountered over the span of three weeks. Every time the participant reported seeing a pro-smoking message, the participant would be prompted to answer questions, such as "Do you think you will try a cigarette anytime soon?" These questions were also randomly asked throughout the day.

"Prior research has shown that greater exposure to pro-smoking media messages, whether in advertising or entertainment media, is associated with an increased risk for beginning or progressing toward regular tobacco use among young adults," said Setodji."Our study provides evidence about how that happens."

The researchers found that one encounter with a pro-smoking message increased people's intention of using tobacco by an average of 22 percent. The team found that smoking intention did reduce as the days passed but for a full week, the risk of using tobacco was still elevated in comparison to the risk before seeing the message. In total, there were 1,112 exposures.

"Our findings suggest that exposures that occur before the influence of a prior message 'wears off' could cause the risk of smoking to accumulate over the long term," Martino said. "This might explain why exposure to these media messages can have an enduring effect on people's attitudes and behaviors toward smoking."

The researchers stressed the importance of limiting exposure to pro-smoking messages. The study was published in the Journal of Adolescent Health.

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