Study links smoking, products

by Maura Henninger | 1/15/98 6:00am

One third of local children in grades six through 12 own promotional gear from cigarette companies, according to a study released by the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in December.

The study of 1,265 youths in New Hampshire and Vermont also found that five percent were wearing clothes bearing the name of a tobacco company at the time of the survey and 50 percent had seen some sort of promotional gear that day.

In addition, children who own such gear are four times as likely to be smokers than those who do not, according to the study.

Dr. James Sargent, the leader of the study at the DHMC's Norris Cotton Cancer Center, defined a smoker as a person who has smoked more than 100 cigarettes in his or her life.

Kids who are not legally allowed to smoke, yet wear these items are sending a "highly visible message that smoking's okay," Sargent said. Most of the students obtained the promotional items from family, friends or through catalogues.

Tobacco companies spend upwards of $1.5 billion each year on promotional gear giveaways. They are currently challenging the Food and Drug Administration regulations of such marketing in court.

"We can't say anything about the intentions of these companies, but we think they're delighted that kids have these items," Sargent said. "Any responsible company would stop marketing these things after seeing studies like these."

But, Sargent said, if more studies with data similar to his are released, the FDA will have a greater chance of linking cigarette marketing and juvenile smoking in court.

Sargent conducted the study in five rural middle and high schools in New Hampshire and Vermont. The participants, 95 percent of whom were white, filled out the surveys anonymously.

Marlboro accounted for the highest amount -- 60 percent -- of the promotional products owned by students, while Camel, which made up 30 percent, was the second highest.

Phillip Morris Inc., which owns Marlboro, declined to comment on the study.

Advertise your student group in The Dartmouth for free!