In 1970, residents of Randolph, Mass., were asked to stop smoking for a day and donate the money they would have spent on cigarettes to a scholarship fund. Since then, the Great American Smokeout has become a nationwide event sponsored by the American Cancer Society. This year’s observance occurred this week.
Also since 1970, the rate of smoking among American adults has dropped from 37 percent to 19 percent. Cigarette advertising has been restricted. Smoking has been banned in restaurants, workplaces, and public spaces.
What hasn’t changed, though, is the effectiveness of smoking promotions in luring young customers. A new study by the Rand Corp. concludes that each pro-smoking signal sticks with the viewer for a lot longer than the time it takes to glance at it.
Rand wanted to see how such exposure affects young adults, because cigarette smoking is most prevalent among 18 to 25-year-olds, at 34 percent. The study showed that the impact on behavior was strongest right after a positive message. Though the intention weakened over time, it remained a factor for seven days.
That is yet another argument for placing strong anti-smoking messages in places where young people are likely to encounter pro-smoking pitches, in ads or store displays or movies. That approach is one way to prevent young people from taking up a habit that is the single largest preventable cause of disease and premature death in America.