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Smoking and Youths

November 18, 1994

R.J. Reynolds spokesperson Peggy Carter mischaracterized my research in a letter published on Oct. 28. She stated the research "indicates that young people have so embraced the anti-smoking message that their impressions of smokers now verge on a whole new class of bigotry and intolerance."

I studied Southern California seventh-graders. Those students perceived that a teen-age smoker was less healthy and less personally appealing, and had less common sense, than a nonsmoker. Further, after seeing anti-smoking ads, they indicated the smoker was less glamorous and mature than the nonsmoker. Indeed, the ads were designed to deglamorize smoking, stating "when you smoke your breath stinks," and "clothes smell like an old ashtray." Similar messages are used to discourage other risky behaviors, such as drinking and driving and refusing to wear a seat belt.

Anti-smoking ads do not create bigots. Bigots have an unreasonable, baseless hatred of others. Youths have sound reasons for disapproving of smokers. Smokers unwisely jeopardize their own health and the health of those exposed to secondhand smoke. Further, anti-smoking ads do not result in hatred of smokers; such ads simply help youths resist peer pressure to smoke.

The tobacco industry's "official" stance is that minors should not smoke, but virtually all smokers start before age 18. Thus industry sales are threatened by effective youth-oriented anti-smoking ads, and we can expect to see more attempts to undermine such ads. Tobacco companies may claim to be victims, but instead they victimize the public when they mischaracterize research for such purposes.

CORNELIA A. R. PECHMANN

Assistant Professor of Marketing

Graduate School of Management

UC Irvine

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