Media Literacy as a Tobacco Use Intervention
Pro-tobacco messages are pervasive in the media. The correlation between youth exposure to pro-tobacco media messages and tobacco use by youth is well-documented (Strasburger & Donnerstein, 1999). In numerous empirical studies, high levels of exposure to smoking in movies are associated with smoking initiation (Heatherton & Sargent, 2009; Sargent, Beach, Dalton, Mott, et al., 2001; Dalton, Sargent, Beach, et al., 2003) and this media exposure has the largest effects on youth who are traditionally at a low risk for smoking (Heatherton & Sargent, 2009). Another example of the influence of exposure to tobacco in the media comes from advertising. The five most heavily advertised brands of cigarettes accounted for about 88% of the brand market share among 12- to 15-year-old smokers nationally as well as the brands used by new smokers (Pucci & Siegel, 1999).
With respect to the influence of more indirect methods of advertising, youth receptivity to tobacco-branded merchandise has also been associated with higher rates of smoking uptake (Sargent, Dalton, Beach, Bernhardt, 2000). Research has revealed that exposure to tobacco use in media messages predicts youth intentions to use tobacco in the future and other variables related to smoking onset (Tickle, Hull, Sargent, Dalton, and Heatherton, 2006; Wills, Sargent, Gibbons, & Gerrard, 2008). Given the pervasiveness of exposure to the media and the challenges associated with limiting this exposure in teenagers, these findings suggest that youth need skills in interpreting a media-rich environment that we now know is full of persuasive tobacco messages.