September 4, 2007

truth® Youth Smoking Prevention Campaign Increases Accuracy of Teens' Peer Smoking Perceptions

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Kevin C. Davis
Kevin Davis

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. -- Teens exposed to the truth youth® smoking prevention campaign have a more accurate perception of the number of teens who smoke, according to a new study conducted by RTI International and funded by The American Legacy Foundation®.

The study, "Association Between National Smoking Prevention Campaigns and Perceived Smoking Prevalence Among Youth in the United States," appears in the online edition of the Journal of Adolescent Health and will be published in the print edition of the Journal later this year.

The study's findings indicate that teens exposed to the truth campaign had a more accurate view of the number of their peers who smoke. Teens with less exposure to the campaign believed smoking was more common among people their age.

The study notes that prior research has consistently shown that teens overestimate smoking among their peers and that this overestimation is linked with smoking uptake.

"Research suggests that teens' perceptions of the prevalence of smoking among their peers is highly predictive of future smoking behavior," said Kevin Davis, an economist at RTI International and the study's lead author. "Our findings shed light on one of the possible mechanisms through which the truth campaign may affect behavior and, in general, suggest that messages which create realistic perceptions of smoking can enhance the effectiveness of youth-focused media campaigns."

The study, which surveyed youths 12 to 17 years of age, found their overall perceptions of how many of their peers smoked dropped during the period of the truth campaign. Perceived smoking rates decreased from 45 percent in late 1999 and early 2000 to 38 percent in the fall of 2003, consistent with similar declines in actual smoking prevalence over the same period.

The truth campaign, created by The American Legacy Foundation, is the nation's largest smoking prevention campaign for youth. The campaign delivers facts and messages to teens about tobacco and the marketing practices of the tobacco industry. The truth campaign advertisements avoid giving direct statements telling youths not to smoke, and instead give information and facts that empower teens to make their own informed choices about tobacco use. The ads also suggest that rebellious teens don't necessarily smoke.

The study also examined Philip Morris' "Think. Don't Smoke" campaign, which took a different advertising approach from the truth campaign, featuring role model youths stating their reasons for not smoking. The researchers found no association between that effort and teens' perceived prevalence of peer smoking. The authors suggest the "Think. Don't Smoke" campaign portrayed ideas consistent with teens' current expectations -- that less rebellious youths are less likely to smoke, and therefore the campaign was unlikely to change their perceptions about smoking.

"This study by RTI reinforces a growing body of research that clearly finds industry-sponsored youth smoking campaigns are not effective in keeping youth from starting to smoke," said American Legacy Foundation President and CEO Cheryl Healton, Dr. PH. "The truth campaign consistently uses research from teen audiences, combined with the best marketing and social science thinking to inform our strategies, and this latest study reiterates that that approach is working."


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