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Anti-tobacco TV ads distasteful, but they may work

Apr 20th, 2012
Staff Writer

Photo credit: national cancer instituteAnti-tobacco ads on television have become increasingly graphic in an effort to persuade smokers to stop. While the ads have generated some criticism for their sometimes disturbing content, they may work as intended, a new study shows.

Researchers at the University of Illinois, Chicago, looked at anti-smoking ads -- sponsored by state governments, industry, pharmaceutical companies and private foundations using Nielsen ratings data for 75 major U.S. media markets from 1999 to 2007 -- and applied the data to information on smoking rates, quit attempts, average daily consumption of cigarettes and other factors.

They found that regions with more state-sponsored quit-smoking campaigns had fewer smokers and more current smokers who said they intended to quit. But areas with more exposure to tobacco-company-sponsored smoking cessation ads had higher rates of smoking.

"On the surface, the tobacco-industry ads were mostly anti-smoking and a little corporate promotion, but they weren't promoting the act of smoking," said Sherry Emery, a senior scientist at the UIC institute and lead author of the study. Emery said. "But the effect of the ads is that they are associated with more smoking."

Most of the recent state-sponsored media campaigns were supported by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. The researchers suggest that the recent increased funding for anti-tobacco campaigns may contribute to meaningful reductions in smoking among U.S. adults.

The study is published in the April issue of the American Journal of Public Health.