Collection: Bad Influence
Many anti-smoking advertisements use children as a motivation for adults to quit smoking. The two most common themes in this category are 1) your children are suffering from your secondhand smoke, and 2) that you are being a poor role model for your children.These ads remind smokers that their “choice” to smoke not only negatively affects themselves as individuals, but also harms innocent bystanders and those whom the smokers love most.
Children are particularly vulnerable because they have no say in the smoking habits of the adults in close proximity to them. Children exposed to secondhand smoke wheeze and cough more often, get sick more often, and experience more frequent and more intense life-threatening asthma attacks than children not exposed to secondhand smoke. (1)
Other ads in this category concentrate on the example smokers set for their children. Multiple studies have shown that children whose parents smoke are much more likely to start smoking themselves than are their peers. These ads thus force smokers to think about the consequences of smoking not just for themselves, but for others as well.
While the primary goal of these ads is to increase the number of adult quitters, the ads may also have cascading effects on adolescents. Unfortunately, literature on the effectiveness of these children-themed ads on adult quitting rates is lacking, and there has not been extensive research on whether the ads persuade adults to talk to their children about smoking.
However, there is research on how parental smoking and parental behaviors affect smoking behaviors in children. Smoking socialization, which can include both directly transmitted knowledge of smoking through parental conversations with children and indirectly transmitted knowledge through parental smoking habits, has been shown to influence children’s future smoking habits. Exposure to second-hand smoke and a lack of anti-smoking expectations and smoking-specific rules are parenting behaviors associated with current smoking in adolescents and the likelihood of children to pick up smoking later in life.
Interestingly, one study noted that while parenting behaviors had a significant impact on smoking patterns in adolescents, actual parental smoking did not (2). The results of this study suggest that perhaps ads that focus on the health of children should be supplemented with parenting advice for adult smokers. A second study also supports the claim that “higher quality” parenting, which in this case was defined as “positive in affect and tone, responsive, directive, and empathetic,” was associated with a lower likelihood of smoking initiation in adolescents, further indicating the importance of smoking socialization between parent and child (3).
Though the primary purpose of these children-themed ads may not be to prevent smoking in adolescents, the ads may raise awareness in families about the influence parents can have on their children’s smoking behaviors. If these ads are supplemented with support and advice on parenting and how to talk to children about smoking, they may have the potential to reduce smoking not just in adults, but also in adolescents as well.
1. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The Health Consequences of Involuntary Exposure to Tobacco Smoke: A Report of the Surgeon General: Secondhand Smoke: What It Means To You. Atlanta: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Office on Smoking and Health, 2006 [accessed 2011 Mar 11].
2. Waa A, Edwards R, Newcombe R, Zhang J, Weerasekera D, Peace J, McDuff I. Parental behaviors, but not parental smoking, influence current smoking and smoking susceptibility among 15 and 15 year-old children. Aust NZ J Public Health 2011; 35: 530-536.
3. Richmond MJ, Mermelstein RJ, Wakschlag LS. Direction Observations of Parenting and Real-Time Negative Affect Among Adolescent Smokers and Nonsmokers. Journal of Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology 2012; 0:1-12.