The effect of cigarette and tobacco advertising on modern youth is vastly overrated. While both political and health activists insist otherwise, today’s adolescence choose their habits, addictions, and desires ultimately out of their own free will.
Increased opportunity for advertising within today’s society undeniably leaves today’s youth more succeptible to many forms of psychological manipulation. Teen-agers are now living in a society guided by unprecedented and highly unreliable sources of mass media. With their prefered source of information rapidly switching from the newspaper, radio and television to the questionable and undependable internet, modern youth is being forced to be much more scrutinizing of the information they encounter. While in previous generations advertising had a direct effect on the actions of a population, nowadays, in order to survive the swelling information super-highway, teen-agers, along with all other active members of society are being forced to question the obvious, and separate true and false. Cigarette advertising is just a small part of the overloaded hype faced by today’s youth. While in previous generations, this advertising would be digested quite naturally, now adolescents are being forced to take a much more critical approach to this intrusive influence. Thus, the desired psychological manipulation that tobacco companies’ multiplying advertisements attempt to set upon today’s youth is ironically being undermined by the very fact that advertisements such as their own now dominate society to the point where they can no longer be taken seriously. Youth are now being forced to discern between believable and non-believable information. Because of this, their scrutiny of the formerly obvious advertisements has developed drastically. Therefore, as sources of media and information multiply, the effect of cigarette advertisements, as well as any other attempt at mental deception inevitably become less effective.
Although adolescents are becoming more aware of certain elements of society, and their potential influences, their ways of life will undeniably remain constant. The harmful effect of tobacco is undisputed among smokers and non-smokers alike. The motivations for teen-agers to smoke are primarily to comfortably fit into their social surroundings, as well as the need to experiment with the unknown. These two causes are related very directly. The coolest teen-agers in any social circle are without fail the most rebellious. Common qualities among leaders of any group of kids are the tendencies to go ahead and try something new, and flirt with danger. Thus, with the two motivations both leading towards increased peer pressure, the desire among teen-agers to follow the path of the rebel, and light up a cigarette has not been softened. Advertisements and endorsements of cigarettes will continue to exist as long as the youth remain strong clientelle for cigarettes. Tobacco promotion is not the cause of cigarette popularity among teenagers, simply a natural consequence to their desire to smoke. Manufacturers, such as Marlboro and Camel, have created "cute" fictional characters in their advertising. Marlboro uses a character called the "Western Man", while Camel uses the sly, "Joe Camel". The industry denies that these symbols target people under 21 and claim that their advertising goal is simply to promote brand switching. The issue of gaining teen-agers as cigarette clientelle is distorted however. Cigarette advertisements are successful in gaining the loyalty of their clientelle to their respective brands. Whether commercials and endorsements increase or decrease, the market will remain as long as teen-agers’ basic cravings for independence, rebellion, and leadership do not change.
Over the past decade, all major Canadian cities have passed non-smoking policies in their public establishments. Tobacco companies’ endorsements of various cultural events have been cut down at an alarming pace. Such attempts to reduce the smoking population actually disillusion today’s youth further into their justifications for smoking. Firstly, by cutting down on public smoking, the freedom of individuals, for which teen-agers strive so adamantly, is tampered with. The often narrow minded teen-ager does not always consider the rights of the non-smoker in public establishments, and simply gains more pride in his rebellious actions. While advertisements will surely encourage teens to continue in their ways, it is actually the sanctions denying their freedom to smoke that induce eager adolescent reactions to cigarette advertisements. Secondly, as we have seen in the Grand Prix of Montreal, the Jazz Festival, as well as many other cultural events sponsored and dependent on cigarette endorsement, it is the event itself that attracts the youth to the various events. By restricting the opportunity of tobacco industries to support and enrich our society’s cultural development, both smokers and non-smokers suffer. The loss and downsizing of great events is simply another consequence of the misdirected attempts to lure the youth away from cigarettes.
Many factors influence the decisions made by teenagers today. Their vulnerability to the advertising market definitely allows cigarette companies to market their product among the youth. However, an individual’s personality is composed of many deeper levels than simple subliminal messages that come and go through advertisements and endorsements. Childhood molds the individual into who he is throughout his adolescence. Throughout childhood, parents guide their children, and shield them from the influences that they know to be harmful. Thus, once a teen-ager, the individual making the decision whether to smoke, whether to be influenced society’s lures and traps, has already become who he is. His course of action will not depend on a good looking camel, but the desire to rebel or conform. This decision will be made depending on the true influences that made the individual. After all, advertisements can influence your taste, and increase your desire. They cannot force addiction, however, nor make anybody do what they wish not do. For youth to distance themselves from tobacco, stronger parental guidance as well as increased confidence are needed. Advertisements, endorsements and promotions that publicly promote cigarettes simply feed on these basic weaknesses of our society.
The popularity of cigarettes among adolescents is a dilemma that has been detached from its roots. While stronger self-confidence and increased parental communication decrease the need to rebel, and seek re-assurance in cigarettes, pressure to remove advertisements and endorsements which simply exploit this weakness of society is imposed. Each adolescent has the power to change, and grow. Without overcoming challenges such as these adverse influences in society, the teen-ager cannot discover his own potential, and appreciate his true self.
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