THURSDAY, Feb. 12 (HealthDay News) -- Tobacco company ads are reaching teenagers and influencing their desire to smoke and what brands they choose, U.S. health officials report.
"We are continuing to find that Marlboro, Newport and Camel brands, among the most heavily advertised brands, continue to be overwhelmingly the preferred brands of cigarettes smoked by middle school and high-school students," said Terry F. Pechacek, associate director for science in the Office on Smoking and Health at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"The industry will deny that they are marketing to underage youth, but our data are showing that the advertising is still reaching the kids," Pechacek said.
A spokesman for one of the tobacco companies defended its marketing program. "Kids should not use tobacco products of any kind," said Philip Morris USA spokesman David Sutton. "We take youth access to tobacco products seriously."
"We have made a significant effort, both at retail and marketing, to connect only to adult smokers," Sutton added.
The brand preferences in the report mirrors what is seen in the marketplace among adult smokers, Sutton said. "If you look at those preferences, they line up with market share among adult tobacco consumers," he said.
Each of the major cigarette companies in the United States has a leading youth brand, Pechacek said. "Industry documents show that all the tobacco companies are continuing to note that if they don't have a leading youth brand, they are in corporate trouble," he said.
Marlboro is marketed by Philip Morris, Camel is made by R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., and Newport is from Lorillard Inc.
The report, in the Feb. 13 issue of the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, found that 78 percent of middle school students and 87 percent of high-school students prefer to smoke these three brands.
In addition, there was a considerable difference in the brands preferred by boys and girls, and blacks and whites.
Marlboro is preferred by 50 percent of middle school girls and 54 percent of high-school girls, while the brand is preferred by 38 percent of middle-school boys and 50 percent of high-school boys. Camels were smoked by 12 percent of middle-school boys, compared with 4 percent of girls.
Newport, a menthol cigarette that is primarily marketed to black communities, was the preferred brand for 60 percent of black middle-school students and 79 percent of black high-school students, according to the report.
In a recent report, the U.S. National Cancer Institute said there is sufficient evidence to conclude that tobacco advertising is directly related to getting people to smoke, Pechacek said.
"Our data in this study, without implying intention, [shows] we are finding that adolescents are being heavily exposed to advertising," Pechacek said.
In an editorial note accompanying the CDC report, researchers noted that, in 2004, 85 percent of teens saw tobacco ads in stores, 50 percent saw them in newspapers or magazines, and 33 percent saw them on the Internet. A whopping 81 percent of teens saw smoking on television or in the movies.
Pechacek noted that the U.S. National Cancer Institute report found that partial bans on tobacco advertising are ineffective, and a 2007 report by the Institute of Medicine called for stronger measures to control tobacco advertising.
The World Health Organization's Framework Convention on Tobacco Control has called for a complete ban on tobacco advertising as far as possible within constitutional restraints, Pechacek said.
Tobacco cessation programs are underfunded when compared with CDC recommendations, Pechacek said. "Are we reaching a majority of vulnerable kids? The evidence is clearly no," he said. "We are reaching some of the vulnerable kids, probably in the range of 20 to 30 percent."
There was a dramatic drop in teen smoking since 1997, Pechacek said. "But that drop stalled in 2003. For 2007, the data are indicating that the sharp decline has stopped. We are still seeing a slow pattern of possible decline. But we are stalled at probably one in five high-school students smoking," he said. "That's pretty much a replacement number for adults that quit."
Danny McGoldrick, research director for the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, said this is yet another example of the reach of tobacco company marketing.
"This is one more piece of evidence that the tobacco marketing efforts affect kids, and the companies are still up to it," McGoldrick said. "For companies that claim not to market to kids anymore, they sure do a good job of getting them to use their product."
Marlboro is smoked by more high-school students than all the other brands combined, McGoldrick said. "When you are close to 90 percent market share among these three brands, they are doing something right," he said.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration needs to have the authority to regulate tobacco marketing, McGoldrick said. "The FDA regulates food, drugs and even cosmetics, but doesn't regulate a product that kills half the people that use it, and 90 percent of the users start as children," he said.
McGoldrick thinks more money is needed to counter tobacco company marketing. "The states aren't using their tobacco settlement or tax dollars to fund the programs we know work to counter tobacco industry marketing and promotion," he said.