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Study Links Advertising To Adolescent Smoking

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Advertising by tobacco companies has a greater effect than peer pressure or family influence on whether some adolescents take up smoking, according to a study of California youths.

Nonsmoking adolescents who are very aware of tobacco advertising are twice as likely to be at risk of taking up smoking as those whose family members and peers are smokers, the study found.

Its authors say their findings challenge the claim by tobacco companies that marketing has far less of an impact on adolescent smoking than social factors.

Researchers at Indiana University-Bloomington and the University of California at San Diego drew on the results from the 1993 California Tobacco Survey. That survey provided data on 3,536 adolescents ages 12 to 17 who had never smoked.

The new study appeared in the Oct. 18 Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

The researchers sought to identify young people who were likely to take up smoking and the factors that increased their chances of doing so.

Among all the adolescents interviewed who had never smoked, one-fourth were classified as susceptible to smoking--meaning they could not rule out deciding to try a cigarette soon. Key factors in that susceptibility, the researchers found, were peer pressure, advertising, and family influence.

Exposure to at least one best friend who smoked, for example, increased susceptibility by 90 percent, the researchers found.

To measure the effects of advertising, the researchers created an index of awareness based on such factors as whether youths could name a brand name of cigarettes.

A top score on that index increased a youth's susceptibility to smoking fourfold over those with the lowest score.

The study also found that younger adolescents were more susceptible to taking up smoking than older ones. Those who rated their own performance in school as average or below average were at greater risk of smoking than those who ranked their performance higher.

Thomas Lauria, a spokesman for the Tobacco Institute, a Washington-based industry group, assailed the study as biased and said it wrongly diverts attention from the influence of peer pressure on adolescent smoking.

The fact that children know about advertising does not make them susceptible to smoking, Mr. Lauria said. "Everyone has favorite ad campaigns," he added, "whether you like the product or not, or buy the product or not."

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is trimming the fat from the federal school-lunch program--literally.

The department is buying reduced-fat cheddar cheese and canned refried beans with less sodium and fat, for example, to enhance nutrition in the program that provides food to 25 million children each day.

By the 1995-96 school year, the USDA plans to provide schools with lower-fat ground beef and pork, low-fat cheese, canned meats and vegetables with less salt, and canned fruit with less sugar. New products will be offered, including low-fat macaroni and cheese, turkey ham, and prune puree, which schools can use as a substitute for fat in cooking.

Schools get about 17 percent of the food in the school-lunch program from the USDA commodities-distribution program, which buys overproduced items to support the agricultural economy.

A report commissioned by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has found that teenagers account for only 30 percent of all out-of-wedlock births. But, the report by Washington-based Child Trends found, nonmarital childbearing is disproportionately high for teenagers. And half of all first out-of-wedlock births are to teenage mothers.

The report, released last month, also found that the availability of welfare benefits is not an important factor to recent increases in out-of-wedlock childbearing.

A possible link between welfare and nonmarital childbearing has drawn much attention in recent debates over reforming federal welfare programs. But the report says results from recent studies are inconclusive.

When studies have found such a relationship, the report says, it tends to be small and generally applies only to whites. The report also says that welfare benefits declined during the 1970s and 1980s, making their availability no more than a partial explanation for increases in such births.

--Millicent Lawton

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