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CDC Blames Surge in Teen-age Smokers on Tobacco Industry’s Promotions

July 21, 1995

ATLANTA (AP) _ Lured by magazine ads of beautiful women enjoying life’s luxuries, Melanie Petzold picked up her first cigarette at age 11.

Now 16, she’s got a free cigarette lighter from Marlboro, her brand of choice. She can earn points for each pack she smokes to win a combination radio-flashlight for her father.

Her friends who smoke have jackets, key chains, coupons and other trinkets, many of them adorned with the Joe Camel cartoon character.

``Most kids my age will go for that. Anything that’s free, people will go for,″ said Melanie, of Staten Island, N.Y.

The government reported Thursday on how many teens took up smoking in the 1980s, when cigarette makers quadrupled spending on giveaways and R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. introduced Joe Camel.

In 1980, when tobacco companies spent $771 million on promotions, 5.4 percent of 14- to 17-year-olds started smoking, according to a study by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

That dropped to 4.7 percent by 1984, then rebounded to 5.5 percent in 1989 _ the year the tobacco industry spent $3.2 billion on caps, T-shirts, trips, coupons and other items to promote smoking and brand loyalty, the CDC said, citing figures the companies gave to the Federal Trade Commission.

The highest rate, 6.3 percent, came in 1988, the year R.J. Reynolds introduced the Joe Camel character in its advertising and promotions.

The percentage of adult smokers has dropped, from 33.2 in 1980 to 25.5 in 1990. The government spends an estimated $120 million a year on its anti-smoking efforts, mostly on medical research.

Tobacco companies spend more than $4 billion a year in advertising and promotions, according to the FTC, but insist they don’t target children. They also support campaigns to discourage children from smoking, spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to print placards warning teen-agers that buying cigarettes is illegal.

The CDC report looked at other factors that could account for the increase, such as cigarettes’ costs, teens’ attitudes toward smoking and the ease or difficulty teens have in buying cigarettes.

Those factors would lead to a decrease in smoking, not an increase, because fewer teens can afford cigarettes at an average of $1.80 a pack and more teens express negative views about smoking, and an increase in bans on smoking and restrictions on sales of cigarettes, the report said.

``The increase is the result of carefully planned marketing efforts by tobacco companies to attract new smokers,″ said K. Michael Cummings of the Roswell Park Cancer Institute in New York. ``I would lay the blame right at their feet,″ said Cummings, one of the report’s authors.

Brennan Dawson, a spokeswoman for the Tobacco Institute, attacked the CDC’s conclusions, saying the agency’s data show there was a 10 percent drop in teen smoking.

``The increases they report are directly contrary to the federal data,″ she said.

However, Michael Eriksen, head of the CDC’s Office on Smoking and Health, said the Tobacco Institute’s researchers incorrectly analyzed unpublished government information. Thursday’s CDC report was based on surveys of 71,321 people who were adolescents or young adults during the 1980s.

At least 3 million teens smoke. Studies show 82 percent of adults smoked their first cigarette by age 18, the CDC says.

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