NCI Cancer Bulletin: A Trusted Source for Cancer Research NewsNCI Cancer Bulletin: A Trusted Source for Cancer Research News
September 23, 2008 • Volume 5 / Number 19 E-Mail This Document  |  Download PDF  |  Bulletin Archive/Search  |  Subscribe

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Director's UpdateDirector's Update

Guest Update by Dr. Robert Croyle

Understanding the Media's Power to Influence Tobacco Use and Control

Dr. Robert CroyleDespite progress made in reducing tobacco use, today fully one-third of the nation's cancer deaths are caused by cigarette smoking. Approximately 20 percent of American adults still smoke and more than 4,000 adolescents smoke their first cigarette each day.

Why are these rates still so high? Part of the answer is explained in the recently released 19th volume of the NCI Tobacco Control Monograph Series, The Role of the Media in Promoting and Reducing Tobacco Use, which was highlighted at a press conference sponsored by the American Legacy Foundation, the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, the American Public Health Association, and the American Medical Association.

Taking Our Own Best Advice: NIH Campus Goes Tobacco-free Poster

Beginning October 1, the use of all tobacco products, including cigarettes, cigars, pipes, and smokeless tobacco, will be prohibited on the NIH Bethesda campus. The new policy, part of the Tobacco-free HHS initiative, was recently announced by NIH Director Dr. Elias A. Zerhouni. It aims to improve the health of employees by promoting tobacco-use cessation while protecting employees and the public from exposure to secondhand smoke. The policy will also serve as a model program for other agencies and organizations that wish to promote healthy behaviors.

To find links to the policy and information about smoking cessation programs and educational materials, go to the NIH tobacco-free Web site at
The report outlines six major conclusions, including the fact that tobacco advertising and promotion are causally related to increased tobacco use, and depictions of smoking in movies are causally related to youth smoking initiation. Given that cigarettes are one of the most heavily marketed products in the United States, and that depictions of smoking were found to occur in more than three-quarters of contemporary box-office hits, these findings are particularly disturbing.

The monograph, which took more than 5 years to complete, involved 5 scientific editors, 23 authors, and 62 expert reviewers, who analyzed more than 1,000 scientific studies on the role of media in encouraging and discouraging tobacco use. Research included in the monograph comes from the disciplines of marketing, psychology, communication, statistics, epidemiology, and public health - all vital to understanding how exposure to the media influences tobacco use.

And the evidence from that research is clear and convincing. The editors concluded, for example, that mass media campaigns to discourage tobacco use can change youth attitudes about tobacco, reduce the chances children will smoke, and encourage adult cessation. The effect on initiation appears greater in controlled field experiments when mass media campaigns are combined with school- and community-based programming. Many population studies document reductions in smoking prevalence when mass media campaigns are combined with other strategies in multi-component tobacco control programs.

Tobacco use still accounts for more than 400,000 premature deaths in the United States each year. Understanding the role of media in reducing or promoting tobacco use is of critical importance in fighting the tobacco epidemic. It is our hope that this new monograph will inform tobacco prevention and control research, practice, and policy for years to come in the United States and around the world. If it is successful in that regard, we know many lives will be saved.

Dr. Robert T. Croyle
Director, NCI Division of Cancer Control and Population Sciences