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Nov. 10, 2005

Reality Check Members Criticize Marlboro Campaign

Oswego County Reality Check members are speaking out against marketing tactics used by the Philip Morris company to celebrate the fiftieth birthday of Marlboro cigarettes. According to Reality Check, invitation-only crowds recently gathered in 49 cities across the country to celebrate Marlboro's 50 years of successful marketing tactics.

Katie Ives, Oswego County Reality Check program coordinator, said that in recent years, the tobacco company spearheaded a campaign to target young adults (18- to 25-year-olds) through music and bar promotion marketing campaigns. In line with its media strategy - to appeal to young adults - Philip Morris scheduled an A-List line-up of celebrities, such as Lenny Kravitz, John Mellencamp, Marc Anthony, and Tantric, to perform at its parties.

"Tobacco companies promise not to target young kids, so now they are targeting barely legal young adults - through these music and bar campaigns. It's shameful to see our favorite stars support smoking," said Patsy George of Oswego County Reality Check. "We're disappointed with these musicians. They're supposed to be acting as our role models, so I am shocked to hear they agreed to participate in these events, supporting a product known to kill."

Ives said that Marlboro's latest marketing campaign uses "buzz" marketing at live music events and bars to encourage sign-ups for promotional offers for free Zippo lighters, concert tickets, birthday coupons, and snow boards for example, in exchange for a person's contact information.

"The tobacco companies have studied young adults' social culture at bars and clubs. They have researched this age group, their social patterns, habits and popular trends extensively," said Ives. "Philip Morris knows that if an attractive young person approaches another young person, asks for their ID in exchange for free trendy stuff, they can get a new young contact for its database."

In 2003, cigarette companies spent more than $15 billion on marketing their products in the United States, with roughly 80% spent on discounts and incentive items to retailers, according to Federal Trade Commission data.

Kathleen Fenlon, director of the Oswego City-County Youth Bureau, said the marketing has been quite successful. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' 2004 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, young adults have the highest smoking rate, with roughly 44.6 percent reporting to currently smoking cigarettes. The survey also reports that the brand of cigarettes most often smoked during the past month among current cigarette smokers aged 12 or older were Marlboro (43.3 percent), an increase from 2002 and 2003, followed by Newport (11.5 percent), and Camel (7.3 percent).

In a related development, Ives said that the first national study to look at the connection between smoking in movies and smoking initiation among adolescents shows that exposure to smoking in popular films is a primary risk factor in determining whether young people will start smoking.

The study by researchers from Dartmouth Medical School (DMS) and Norris Cotton Cancer Center (NCCC) appears in the Nov. 7 issue of the journal, Pediatrics. The research, supported by the National Cancer Institute, suggests that exposure to movie smoking accounts for smoking initiation among over one-third of U.S. adolescents. It concludes that limiting exposure of young adolescents to movie smoking could have important public health implications.

In the study, 6,522 US adolescents aged 10 to 14 were asked to identify films they had seen from a list of 50 randomly selected titles out of a database of films released in the U.S. from 1998 to 2000. Researchers found examples of movie smoking in 74 percent of the 532 movies in the database. Based on the movies each participant had seen and the amount of smoking in each movie, the adolescents were split into four levels of exposure to movie smoking. Researchers then examined risk for adolescent smoking, comparing adolescents in the higher movie smoking categories with the lowest category and controlling factors known to be linked with adolescent smoking, like peer and parent smoking.

Even after considering all other factors known to influence the smoking risk, Dartmouth Medical School researchers found that adolescents with the highest exposure to movie smoking were 2.6 times more likely to take up smoking compared to those with the lowest exposure. All else being equal, the researchers found that of 100 adolescents that tried smoking, 38 did so because of their exposure to smoking in movies.

Oswego County Reality Check is funded by the New York State Department of Health and administered by the Oswego City-County Youth Bureau. Teens who would like to be involved in Reality Check may call the Youth Bureau at 349-3451or e-mail Ives at kives@oswegocounty.com

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