Television has had a significant impact on the tobacco industry, both in terms of advertising and public perception. Research has shown that higher levels of exposure to tobacco advertising are associated with a lower perception of the harm caused by smoking. This is especially true among young people, who are more likely to respond to tobacco and alcohol advertising than other age groups. In addition, tobacco companies have used television advertising to shift people from one brand to another, rather than create new smokers.
This was clearly stated by Frank Saunders, senior executive of the Philip Morris Tobacco Company, who told News and Observer in October 1971 that “television advertising was never designed to create new smokers”. Tobacco companies have also used other forms of advertising that have fewer restrictions, such as point-of-sale marketing in convenience stores, gas stations, grocery stores and pharmacies. This has been done in an effort to avoid facing First Amendment challenges. Despite the positive associations between tobacco and media consumption, research has shown that there is little relationship between exposure to advertising sponsored by tobacco companies and aimed at young people and the results of smoking among young people.
Additional laboratory tests suggest that adolescents respond to tobacco and alcohol advertising more than other age groups. An alternative hypothesis is that tobacco companies may have purposely bought advertising aimed at parents in media markets that have higher rates of smoking among young people. After adjusting for the covariates, it was found that each additional tobacco industry advertisement aimed at parents was associated with a lower probability of remembering anti-smoking advertising, a lower perceived harm from smoking, a greater intention to smoke in the future, and a higher probability of smoking in the last 30 days. Given a media environment with fewer demonstrably beneficial advertising messages, it is conceivable that tobacco companies' smoking prevention advertisements could have even greater adverse effects on young people's smoking habits than this study suggests. In sensitivity analysis among students in grades 10 and 12, where the most worrying relationships were found, the exclusion of the price of cigarettes or the smoke-free air intensity index generally did not systematically influence the relationship between the increase in advertising aimed at the parent companies of tobacco companies and a greater approval of smoking, a lower perception of the harm caused by smoking, greater intentions to smoke in the future, or a greater probability of smoking in the last 30 days.