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Smoking & tobacco

Facts about smoking

Teens & smoking

Most people who become smokers start in their teens. Tobacco companies are desperate to get teens hooked; as hundreds of thousands of adult smokers die off and quit, tobacco companies need teens to start smoking, so the tobacco companies can stay in business. Teens need to know how tobacco companies are targeting them, so they can fight back.

Some facts on teen smoking:

  • Each day, between 82,000 and 99,000 young people around the world start smoking.
  • Smoking rates for youth climbed in the early 1990s, but have been slowly declining.
  • Almost 20 per cent of Canadian teens (aged 12-19) currently smoke (daily or occasionally).
  • In Canada, the smoking rates are generally higher among males than females.
  • On average, males smoke more cigarettes a day than females.
  • Youth smokers make more attempts to quit smoking than adult smokers.

Read more smoking statistics

Why do teens start smoking?

Teens give many reasons for why they start smoking:

  • "My friends smoke."
  • "I just wanted to try it."
  • "I thought it was cool."
  • "My parents smoke."

One of the biggest reasons teens start to smoke is peer influence. Teenagers are more prone to peer pressure. Over 70 per cent of teens say that having friends who smoke and/or peer pressure is the number one reason for starting to smoke.

Another main reason that youth smoke is that adults do.

The tobacco industry targets you!

There's clear evidence that tobacco companies target children and teens in their marketing.

Why target youth?

The tobacco industry is losing its customers. Smoking kills over 45,000 Canadians each year, and thousands of other smokers are quitting. Tobacco companies need to recruit more smokers to take the place of those who have died or quit. Most smokers choose their favourite brand of cigarettes and become addicted to nicotine during their teens.

Smoking in the media

One way that tobacco companies target youth is through the media. The more teens see the actors smoking on TV shows and in the movies, the more likely they'll try it themselves. According to one non-profit group that studies smoking and movies, "Non-smoking teens whose favourite stars frequently smoke on screen are sixteen times more likely to have positive attitudes about smoking in the future." (Smoke Free Movies How Movies Sell Smoking http://smokefreemovies.ucsf.edu/problem/bigtobacco.html)

Tobacco companies know how influential the media can be. That's why tobacco companies have paid movie producers hundreds of thousands of dollars to promote cigarettes in the movies - it's called product placement. Tobacco companies paid to have the movie's stars smoke their brand of cigarettes on screen. The companies knew that teens who like the stars would also begin to like the idea of smoking, and show special interest in the brand of their favourite star. (Source: Smoke Free Movies, Tobacco's secret History in Hollywood http://smokefreemovies.ucsf.edu/problem/bigtobacco.html )

Advertising to kids & teens

Companies use advertisements to sell their products. Before a company creates an advertisement, they decide who should buy their product, and then they study these people. For example, toy companies study young children to understand what they would like to see in a TV commercial.

The tobacco industry uses these same strategies to sell smoking to teens. They know what children and youth want to hear, and they use this knowledge to sell you their products. In 1998, Canadian tobacco companies spent an estimated $32 million on advertising.

Tactics tobacco companies use to target youth:

Cartoon character mascots: A U.S. tobacco company introduced the cartoon character Joe Camel, who became widely known by youth between 1988 and 1991. The success of the Joe Camel character was said to be directly responsible for the increase in cigarette sales from $6 million in 1988 to $476 million in 1991.

Promotional offers: Joe Camel ads once offered Joe Camel leather jackets, sandals and neon signs in exchange for coupons from Camel cigarette packages. Youth had to smoke many packs of cigarettes to receive these promotional materials.

Shifting the blame: Tobacco companies try to shift blame to youth who smoke instead of themselves. Tobacco companies suggest that youth have a choice whether to smoke.

Making tobacco look cool: Nearly all of The Simpsons cartoon characters (including children) have been seen smoking. Eighty-seven per cent of the top box office hits between 1988 and 1997 portrayed tobacco use an average of five times per movie.

Showing tobacco use as an "adult" activity: Tobacco companies send the message that smoking is for adults only but that a child can pretend to be grown-up by smoking

Fight back

Don't believe the hype! You don't have to be fooled by tobacco companies' tactics. You have the power to resist this marketing and stay smoke-free. You also have the power to become an advocate for a smoke-free society. Don't underestimate the power and influence you have to make changes in your school and community. You can help your friends to make the healthy choice not to smoke.