Mixed messages on tobacco: comparative exposure to public health, tobacco company- and pharmaceutical company-sponsored tobacco-related television campaigns in the United States, 1999–2003


Melanie A. Wakefield
Centre for Behavioral Research in Cancer
The Cancer Council Victoria
1 Rathdowne Street
Victoria 3053
E-mail: melanie.wakefield@cancervic.org.au


Aims  To describe and compare the extent of exposure among youth and adults to antitobacco advertising funded by tobacco control agencies, and to smoking-related advertising from tobacco and pharmaceutical companies.

Design  Archival records of television advertising exposures from Nielsen Media Research for the largest 75 media markets in the United States from 1999 to 2003.

Measurements  Mean monthly advertising exposures for households with televisions and adolescents aged 12–17 years for: state tobacco control programs; the national American Legacy Foundation (Legacy) program; tobacco company advertising for youth smoking prevention, parent advertising and corporate image; pharmaceutical company advertising for nicotine replacement therapy and Zyban®; and other miscellaneous tobacco-related advertising.

Findings  Combined tobacco company youth/parent advertising exposures matched those for combined State/Legacy campaigns (4.56 advertisements/month versus 4.97 advertisements/month among households; 3.05 advertisements/month versus 3.38 advertisements/month among adolescents). Tobacco company corporate image advertising averaged 3.25 advertisements/month among households and 0.73 advertisements/month among adolescents. Tobacco company advertising exceeded public health-sponsored advertising by a factor of 1.57–1, and among youth by 1.11–1. Pharmaceutical companies were the largest sponsor of tobacco-related advertising for households (10.37 advertisements/month) and provided significant exposure among adolescents (2.61 advertisements/month).

Conclusions  This is the first study to demonstrate systematically that public health-sponsored antitobacco campaigns in the United States are matched or exceeded by tobacco company advertising, as well as pharmaceutical cessation product advertising. Research is needed to determine whether such advertising may dilute or undermine the established benefits of tobacco control-sponsored campaigns.