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May 28, 2001

New research in Smoking: Risk, Perception and Policy, released today in Washington, DC, found that adolescents and young adults (ages 14-29) are more likely to recall cigarette ads than those over 30. The favorable feelings elicited by images in smoking advertising make the behavior more attractive and more acceptable. Exposure to cigarette advertising is strongly related to images of popularity and relaxation, especially among the young. Adolescents exposed to cigarette advertising also report greater prevalence
of smoking among their friends.

“As adolescents age, the sense of the riskiness of smoking declines and their positive feelings and images of smoking rise” said Dan Romer, Research Director of the Institute for Adolescent Risk Communication at the Annenberg Public Policy Center and a contributor to the book. “By creating favorable imagery, cigarette advertising lays the groundwork for smoking initiation in young people.”

The researchers found that perception of risk plays almost no role in deterring cigarette trial while exposure to cigarette advertising is positively related to taking up smoking. Much anti-smoking advertising has had little impact on preventing the initiation of smoking because it focuses on smoking risks without influencing the favorable images that motivate young people to begin smoking.

The tobacco industry has argued that those who choose to smoke know the risks. Yet Annenberg
Researchers found that 14-22 year olds do not have a consistent and realistic sense of the addictive nature of smoking and they do not recognize how risky smoking is in relation to other hazardous behaviors.

“The majority of smokers, regardless of age, want to quit smoking and believe they will do so within the next year,” said Paul Slovic, President of Decision Research in Eugene, Oregon, and Professor of Psychology at the University of Oregon. Slovic edited the volume and contributed a chapter to the book.

“When young people, and adults for that matter, start smoking,” added Slovic, “they do so based upon their feelings, not on any reasoned analysis of risks and benefits. As a result, they do not understand the consequences of their actions and they make decisions that they almost invariably come to regret.”

When asked, “If you had it to do over again, would you start smoking?”, more than 85% of adult smokers and about 80% of young smokers answered “no”. The more these current smokers felt addicted to cigarettes, the more often they had tried to quit, the longer they had been smoking, and the more cigarettes they were smoking per day, the more likely they were to say they would not start smoking again. These findings thus paint a portrait of smokers as individuals unable to control a behavior they
have come to recognize as distasteful and harmful.

Smoking: Risk, Perception and Policy, published by Sage, is the first in a new series of books on public policy sponsored by the American Academy of Political and Social Science (AAPSS). Founded in 1889, the AAPSS seeks to promote the political and social sciences, in the comprehensive sense of those terms.

It has sought to stimulate discussion through its public meetings, and to foster scientific research through its publications. The book includes analysis of two extensive surveys on the attitudes, beliefs, feelings, and perceptions of risk that young people associated with smoking. The surveys were conducted by telephone in 1999 and 2000 with over 4000 young people and adults. The book also explores the implications of the survey results on smoking-control policies. In addition to Romer and Slovic, contributors to the book include:

Jonathan Samet, Johns Hopkins University

Patrick Jamieson, University of Pennsylvania

Neil Weinstein, Rutgers University

George Loewenstein, Carnegie Mellon University

Neal Benowitz, University of California – San Francisco

R. Kirkland Ahern, University of Pennsylvania

Jon Hansen, Harvard Law School

Douglas Kysar, Cornell Law School

Richard Bonnie, University of Virginia Law School.

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