Professor Examines Parent-Oriented Marketing to Curb Youth Smoking

November 15, 2010—Each year about one million youth in the U.S. begin to smoke cigarettes. One in six of them become regular smokers with 60 percent of adult smokers starting by age 14 and 90 percent starting by the end of the teen years. Dr. Zhiyong Yang, Assistant Professor of Marketing, recently completed a study focusing on how two key parenting strategies—positive open communication and negative psychological control—influence smoking among children from late childhood, ages 10-11, to late adolescence, ages 16-17.

"Current parent-oriented marketing practices mainly emphasize modifying parenting strategies to develop more open communications and monitor their teen's activities to curb teen smoking," said Dr. Yang. "Negative psychological control tactics, such as threats, physical discipline, withholding affection and guilt induction, increase smoking development both directly and indirectly by reducing the initial level of child self-esteem. Based on our study findings, we suggest that social marketers should emphasize the detrimental impact of psychological control and target parents before their child reaches late grade school."

The study indicates that by the time a child reaches late grade school, the damage to his or her self-esteem and relationship to parents may be too late to reverse, which is likely to lead to further loss of self-esteem and escalating rebellious behaviors such as smoking.

Recognizing the harmful effects of smoking and the critical importance of reducing smoking among the youth, the U.S. Congress enacted the Family Smoking Prevention and Control Act (H.R. 1256) in the summer of 2009. This law and its ensuing policies focus primarily on child-oriented prevention strategies, while the important role of parenting strategies in curtailing teen smoking is largely neglected. This is ironic given that social marketers at the Centers for Disease Control, and at Tobacco Free Kids, have targeted parents with advertising and web sites that emphasize modifying parenting strategies to develop more open communications and to monitor their teen's activities to curb smoking.

"Marketing campaigns should highlight that positive relationships must be established early, and that psychological control has long-lasting negative impact on a child's self-esteem and makes him or her more vlunerable to the risks of smoking," says Yang.

The study complements Dr. Yang's body of marketing research examining how socio-cultural forces interact with individuals' self-concept to influence not only consumption-related behaviors such as brand choice, online information search and new product adoption decisions, but also consumption-related misbehaviors including smoking, drinking and illegal drug use.

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