As more and more people use smartphones, a world of virtual games, social networking, and fun apps are at their fingertips 24/7. Photo-sharing and exercise-tracking apps can be useful and fun. Others, though, may have devious intentions, like trying to get you hooked on smoking.
Cigarette advertising was banned from TV and sports stadiums because of the terrible health risks of smoking and because it was an easy and effective way to market cigarettes to youth. But with each technological advance, tobacco companies and other advertisers are looking for new ways to reach teens—even if that means developing games and free apps for your phone.
A study of available apps on Apple and Google Play during a single month in 2012 found 107 phone apps that promoted smoking! Some of these let users smoke virtual cigarettes while others compare cigarette prices.
Many of the virtual smoking apps allow you to “smoke with friends,” and they use catchy animations that make them seem like a game. Don’t be fooled.
Next time you download an app, pause a moment to ask: “Is this app just a game or is there a hidden message?”
“Marijuana is natural, so how can it be harmful?”
Lots of teens ask us this question, and it’s a good one—a great question, in fact.
People often think that substances found in nature are automatically safer than chemicals that are made in a laboratory or a factory. It’s not that simple, unfortunately. Lots of beneficial substances are human made (medicines, for example), and lots of harmful ones come straight from the earth.
Tobacco is a great example. Like marijuana, tobacco is a plant whose leaves have been dried, crumbled, and smoked for thousands of years. It was used in religious rituals by Native Americans, who believed that exhaling tobacco smoke carried their thoughts and prayers to heaven; they also believed it possessed medicinal properties.
Once American settlers began growing the crop and exporting it to Europe and the rest of the world, tobacco enjoyed a reputation kind of like marijuana does today: Some monarchs and religious leaders thought it was unhealthy and morally corrupt and tried to ban it; but lots of people enjoyed the “precious weed” and sided with the physicians of the time, who actually praised its healing virtues—claiming that smoking tobacco could cure most forms of sickness and even protect a person from getting the plague!
It wasn’t until around the 1950s that modern medicine, armed with better science, established the truth about smoking tobacco—it can cause diseases like lung cancer and it is highly addictive. No one would now argue that tobacco is safe, let alone good for you. But it is “natural.”
Marketers of foods and other products use the “natural equals good for you” assumption all the time to manipulate people’s buying behavior. For instance, when shoppers see the “All Natural” label on a food, they tend to think it’s good for them even if it contains lots of unhealthy sugar or fat—both of which are, like tobacco, “natural.”
We still don’t know whether smoking marijuana causes lung cancer like tobacco does, but strong evidence shows that it does other bad stuff: It interferes with thinking and memory, it can lower your IQ if you smoke it regularly in your teen years, and—as a result of these and other things—it can set you up to miss achieving your full potential in life.
Is a “natural” way to hurt your brain any better than an unnatural one?
Eric Wargo is a science writer at NIDA. Before coming to NIDA, he wrote for an association of psychological scientists, people who study all aspects of the mind and human behavior. He is excited to work at NIDA, because NIDA scientists study the brain, and the brain is at the root of everything we humans do.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (known by most people as the "FDA") has banned cigarettes with flavors that make them taste like fruit, candy, or clove. Which reminds me…real candy and fruit are soooo much better…but this ban does raise some questions—so, in case you were wondering:
Who is smoking flavored cigarettes? Studies show that 17-year-olds who smoke are three times more likely to use flavored cigarettes as smokers over 25. In fact, some people think cigarette companies add the flavors as a way to get teens to try smoking. The FDA says young people are twice as likely to report seeing advertising for these flavored products, so the cigarette companies are obviously putting the ads in places that are popular with teens. (Hmmm, pretty sneaky).
Why ban the flavored cigarettes? 3,600 young people start smoking each day, and almost all adult smokers (90 percent) started smoking as teenagers. If the idea of flavors encourages kids to smoke, many of them will keep smoking and face a lifelong battle with nicotine addiction (hardly worth it).
Do the flavors make the cigarettes any safer? No way! They are just as toxic as ever. In fact, the flavors might hide some of the bad taste of cigarettes, so in a way they are more dangerous.
How will they enforce this ban? The FDA encourages people to report continuing sales of flavored cigarettes through a special tobacco hotline (1-877-CTP-1373) and website. You can learn more about the risks of flavored tobacco products at www.fda.gov. Might even make a great report for health or science class!
What does SBB think about flavored cigarettes? The companies that make these flavored cigarettes think they are pretty smart, trying to make money off of teens who think "candy, fruit and clove" sound like fun. However, smoking is still the leading cause of preventable death in the United States. More deaths are caused each year by tobacco use than by all deaths from HIV, illegal drug use, alcohol use, motor vehicle injuries, suicides and murders combined.*
So don't be "tricked" into smoking by the lure of flavored cigarettes.
What we know about drug abuse evolves over time. This is true for smoking and tobacco addiction, too. We know much more now than we did 100, 40, or even 10 years ago. As we learn more about tobacco, smoking, and health, we continue to do more to prevent illness and death caused by tobacco.
Did you know there was a time when people didn't know that smoking cigarettes could be deadly? A long time ago, doctors even recommended that people smoke to cure other illnesses-check out the old advertisement below:
Looks pretty silly now. Today, no doctor who has gone to medical school would recommend smoking to their patients. Just the opposite: doctors, nurses, and teens like you are telling people not to smoke. Why? Because smoking "causes lung cancer heart disease, emphysema, and may complicate pregnancy"—and it says so right on the box! Every cigarette carton in the United States is required to warn against the health effects of smoking.
Different warnings appear on different cigarette packaging. While traveling in Europe recently, one of our bloggers snapped a picture of some cigarette cartons, each with its own saying. One of them said: "Smokers die younger." That's what you call truth in advertising. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, smoking causes more deaths each year than HIV, illegal drug use, alcohol use, motor vehicle injuries, suicides and murders combined! Check out more info for youth on CDC's website.
Here at NIDA, we know and understand what smoking looked like then and now. But, what gets us excited is applying what we've learned about tobacco and nicotine to help improve people's lives in the future. So, stay tuned to the Sara Bellum Blog—you never know what we, or one of your classmates, might discover.
As the 1-year anniversary of the signing of the Tobacco Control Act approaches, new rules that let the Government regulate tobacco products are going into effect. Starting on June 22, cigarette packs may no longer use labels that say "light," "low" and "mild." This is because research shows that “light” cigarettes are no safer than regular ones. Also, tobacco companies will no longer be allowed to sponsor cultural and sporting events, distribute logo clothing, give away free samples or sell cigarettes in packages of less than 20—what’s known as "kiddy packs."
Another new law will prohibit the sale of tobacco products to anyone under 18, and vending machine sales of tobacco products will be banned except in adults-only places. We did an earlier blog about the ban on candy and fruit-flavored tobacco products, but these new laws will go even further.
This is great news for the public health and for teens, since tobacco products still account for 20 percent of all deaths in the United States each year, and tobacco companies keep trying to recruit new smokers. Every day 1,000 children become addicted to tobacco, and almost 4,000 try their first cigarette, according to John R. Seffrin, CEO of the American Cancer Society, who says the tobacco industry spends $34 million every day to try and hook new young smokers.
So, show the tobacco companies you can think for yourself. Smoking is very addictive, so the best advice is (yeah, you’ve heard it before): Don’t start!
Everyone knows that many of the fans of football’s biggest game are there for the commercials. Companies selling all types of goods—from cars to snack foods to insurance—pay top dollar (more than $2 million for 30 seconds in 2011) to spread the word about their products.
Alcohol companies are part of this media frenzy, and their messages reach all members of the TV audience—from adults to teens to young children.
Even adults have a hard time separating the myths of marketing from the truth, so see if you can figure out how the company is trying to make you want what they’re selling. Below are several real-life examples to test your skills.
2011 Super Bowl Alcohol Ads
During the Green Bay Packers’ win over the Pittsburgh Steelers, the audience saw five alcohol ads. Here are four:
The Ad: A woman and man have won a home makeover and the only change made was to put a bucket of Bud Light on the kitchen counter. The “host” of the home makeover show states that they gave the room “a fun vibe” and “clearly this is the room people want to hang out in.”
The Message: This one’s pretty obvious. Alcohol = fun = partying with more friends.
The Ad: A friend dog-sits for someone and is invited to drink the Bud Light in the freezer. Cut to a party scene with lots of attractive people being served by dogs, who have gone up on two legs to become waiters and bartenders.
The Message: This ad uses humor as its main vehicle. The dogs are funny to watch, and while the scene is absurd—obviously a dog could never serve someone a beer—the implication is that alcohol is a fun, light-hearted, even “fantastical” treat.
The Ad: Movie star Adrien Brody serenades a roomful of women with a romantic tune—only for the ladies to find out that he’s actually singing to a glass of beer.
The Message: Alcohol is romantic. This ad may appeal to women and teen girls more than men, as the ladies in the room clearly swoon for the singer.
The Ad: It’s the Wild, Wild West, and a villainous cowboy enters a saloon and threateningly asks the bartender for a “Bud.” Upon hearing the bar is out of that particular drink, the cowboy fingers his holstered gun until a deliveryman—who arrives in a wagon pulled by the ever-popular Budweiser Clydesdales—enters with an icy case of Budweiser. The scary cowboy starts to sing and soon the whole bar is harmoniously singing along.
The Message: Lack of alcohol is a serious mistake, a critical missing piece. And once alcohol is produced, all hostility melts away—implying that alcohol is a cure for problems and that it brings people together.
To cut to the truth about alcohol, check out The Cool Spot, a Web site for teens from the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
You probably know that smoking is NOT cool—and that it’s really dangerous, too. Tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable death in the United States, and kills nearly a half a million people each year. The chemicals found in cigarette smoke have been linked to serious long-term side effects, including cancer, emphysema, heart disease, and even death. People who smoke may become infertile, and pregnant women who smoke are more at risk for stillbirths, having babies with low birth weight, and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently announced that it will require prominent cigarette health warnings on all cigarette packaging and advertisements in the United States. Check out the new warning labels here: http://www.fda.gov/TobaccoProducts/Labeling/Labeling/CigaretteWarningLabels/default.htm.
But cigarette smoking doesn’t just affect the smoker—“secondhand” smoke also affects families and friends and many thousands of others. Secondhand smoke is exactly what it sounds like: nonsmokers inhale the smoke that “firsthand” smokers exhale from cigarettes, cigars, and pipes. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that each year, secondhand smoke causes as many as 3,400 lung cancer-related deaths in the United States.
So, if you want a longer, healthier life, better to indulge in activities like sports, yoga, running, and spending time with friends and family.
You’ve probably seen television commercials advertising prescription drugs for any number of things—from fibromyalgia (fi-bro-my-al-ja) to depression. Usually these ads end with an announcer running through a long list of dangerous side effects and warnings so fast that viewers can’t possibly get all of them, even when they include death.
Did you know that the United States and New Zealand are the only countries in the world that allow prescription drug companies to market medications directly to the public?
Some drug companies even use celebrity spokespersons, such as pro golfer Phil Mickelson who appears in a commercial promoting a drug for arthritis. The ad shows a vibrant green golf course on a sunny day while the background voice states that “sometimes fatal events” could occur in people who use the drug. Those include infections, tuberculosis, lymphoma and other cancers, and blood disorders. But the voice listing these effects seems more like an afterthought.
Risk of Addiction
Some prescription drugs marketed on TV carry the risk of addiction if they are abused. For example, Ambien is a central nervous system depressant prescribed for sleep disorders and could lead to addiction if not used as prescribed.
An Ambien TV commercial appeals to the viewer through humor—a rooster in the bedroom—and also through the promise of a good night’s sleep. However, the side effects listed at the end of the commercial are cause for concern—abnormal behaviors like being more outgoing or aggressive, confused, agitated, and even experiencing hallucinations. Ambien might also worsen depression and increase suicide risk.
Stay Alert to Marketing Gimmicks
In a previous blog, we talked about truth in advertising with alcohol commercials during the 2011 Super Bowl. The purpose of commercials for any product—alcohol, candy, cleaning supplies, or medications—is to sell that product.
The Food and Drug Administration oversees advertising that drug companies put on TV, but it doesn’t control how viewers react to the ads. A survey of 500 physicians reported that 78 percent of physicians believe their patients understand the possible benefits of the drugs they saw in a commercial, but only 40 percent believe their patients understand the possible risks. About 75 percent of physicians surveyed believe that commercials for medications make people think the drug works better than it does.
So, when you watch TV, see if you recognize shows and commercials about prescription drug abuse and think about whether or not what you’re seeing is accurate.
- What’s the purpose of the ad—who created the message and why?
- What words, images, or sounds are used to make the message appealing?
- How does the message make me feel?