Poisoned Youth | Teen Ink

Poisoned Youth

May 12, 2009
By Jillian Conrad BRONZE, Westminster, Colorado
Jillian Conrad BRONZE, Westminster, Colorado
2 articles 0 photos 0 comments

It seems today that many companies – such as the tobacco and alcohol industries – will advertise to whoever they can to get as much business as possible; this includes teens as well as adults. Although society recognizes that teens smoke cigarettes and drink alcohol, the alcohol and tobacco industries should not be allowed to advertise such products to adolescents; by advertising to teens, these companies are not stressing the dangers and consequences all people may face when drinking and smoking. However, one cannot pass judgment on these companies without knowing the hard facts. Some imperative facts one should look into are legal ages, teen rights and opinions, how companies sucker in people to buy their products, and companies who have attempted to sell to adolescents. It is crucial to know reasons why these companies should not be allowed to poison youth with advertisements for dangerous substances.

First of all, companies should not be able to advertise their products to people who are not of legal age to purchase or use the merchandise. It is common sense to know the legal drinking and smoking ages in America. To smoke legally, one must be of eighteen years of age or older; to drink legally, one must be of twenty-one years of age or older. There are obviously clear reasons as to why the age limits are what they are. In 1993, to “prevent nicotine addiction in children”, “forty-seven states had enacted laws that prohibited the sale of tobacco products to persons under eighteen years of age. By 1995, all states had restricted minors’ access to tobacco products…” (Schaler 52). Eighteen has clearly been known as the age in which one is an adult, and it can be assumed that, not only do people care about the health of children, but that smoking is also a privilege. The clear motive for the change of the drinking age from eighteen to twenty-one was to lessen alcohol-related deaths; this was possible thanks to President Reagan. President Reagan passed a law in the mid 1980s. “When Reagan signed the National Minimum Drinking Age Act of 1984, any state that failed to pass an age-21 law…risked losing its federal highway money. All 50 states complied.” The law resulted in a “reduction in alcohol-related death” (Torr 107). Although people believe that “students were better off when the drinking age was 18,” the new law had proven its advantages of reduced alcohol-related deaths (Torr 106). This creates a logical reason why the laws should be abided by.

The Constitution clearly states that American citizens are entitled to rights; when it comes to smoking and drinking, teens have no rights. Tobacco and alcohol companies should not get the hopes up of teens by advertising to them; these advertisements could make teens think that, since they are being advertised to, it is okay. As said previously, “the legal age to possess, use, or purchase tobacco products is 18, and the drinking age is 21” (Truly 145). So, unless a person is twenty-one or older, their rights are limited when it comes to smoking and drinking. However, teens do have opinions on this matter. When asked why they smoked, most teens answered “because it’s cool” (Jacobson 83). This statement proves that it is safe to assume that teens are likely to follow what is considered cool. Teens also tend to put aside rationality for the sake of being cool. Adolescents are known for the typical response “it won’t happen to me,” when asked about the possible consequences of drinking and smoking (Jacobson 86). Some people probably think it is a good idea to stress the consequences of smoking and drinking to help decrease the number of teenagers who remain naïve to these dangers.
Also, advertisements that are targeting youth persuade teens to buy or do certain things. In most high schools it is observed that teens like to be part of rebellion; is this true for underage drinking and smoking? In a discussion that U.S. News had with teens about the smoking controversy, they found out that two main reasons teens smoked were because they wanted “to be part of a peer group…and to rebel at the same time” (Winters 18). Unlike European countries, the United States has a minimum drinking age. In a study, “American teens were more likely to have been drunk in the last 30 days” as opposed to European teens; thus showing how teens are more prone to doing things and abusing privileges they are not allowed to do or have (Nakaya 199). Some may think that, to actually prevent teen inebriation, the minimum drinking age should be lowered in America. However, this could increase teen accidents and diseases; one must remember why a minimum age was set for drinking and smoking in the first place. When alcohol and tobacco companies advertise to teens, they are persuading them to rebel against the law by getting them to buy and use their products.
It is also commonly known that tobacco and alcohol have side effects. Smoking and drinking definitely have affects on teen life – including education and relationships – and health. Most smokers, adults and teens alike, tend to have cravings for cigarettes. In the University of Michigan’s “Monitoring the Future project, 29.9 percent of high school seniors smoked regularly” (Winters 24). This can become a concern because, if need be, students could choose to skip class to fulfill their cravings. In fact, Sabrina Hall stated that “some kids’ grades went down, including mine, from skipping classes to get nicotine in their system” (Winters 21). Alcohol has also proven to affect teen education and intellectual decision making when it comes to sexual behavior. A PBS “Frontline” documentary showed how an alarming rate of teens had sex with “multiple partners, drinking and drug use,” with “little if any protection,” and “no regard for the consequences” (Torr 56). Not only does alcohol affect decision making, it has also been proven to “damage the developing brains of teens and young adults and perhaps destroy brain cells involved in learning and memory” (Torr 60). Both statements say enough to support the fact that alcohol affects many important things in a teen’s life. The tobacco and alcohol industries should not promote the risk of this happening to more and more kids.
Although it is illegal for teens to smoke and drink, tobacco industries still find surreptitious ways to appeal to younger generations. Hollywood also helps contribute by glamorizing smoking and drinking among teens. The tobacco company – Camel – “used cartoons to attract five year olds to become the future smokers of America” (Jacobson 154). Not only were they appealing to teens, they were also hooking toddlers into the idea that smoking is cool. In fact, “32.8 percent of fourteen-fifteen year olds buy Camel” (Jacobson 155). Even in today’s media people see more and more movies that include teens smoking and drinking. Regardless of the consequences the movies showed, drinking and smoking should not be glamorized by Hollywood or any organization for that matter.
Even though the tobacco and alcohol companies know it is illegal for teens to use their products, there are still companies who have actually directly targeted them. Most generally it is the tobacco industry that targets youth. It has been known that “some companies flavor cigarettes with honey or coca-cola because ‘it is a well known fact that teenagers like sweet products’” (Jacobson 155). One must also not forget about candy cigarettes and cigars that are sold in candy shops. Another major example of youth advertising was Joe Camel. Although Camel tried to influence younger people to become smokers, they did not get away with it very easily. R.J. Reynolds’ Tobacco Company was sued in 1991 to end the “Joe Camel marketing campaign” (Jacobson 152). Even though there are no particular laws preventing tobacco or alcohol advertisements that target the youth, it can face some pretty lawful consequences.
Not only does alcohol and tobacco affect a teen’s present, it also affects their future. If a teen drinks too much it may lead to alcoholism. This means that the teen would not be able to function without alcohol. However, “alcoholism is only one type of alcohol problem” and that a person may “drink too much and too often but still not be dependent on alcohol” (Nakaya 120). This form of abuse may lead to not being able to meet simple responsibilities. All of the above are, of course, addictions. Smoking will not only lead to a further need for nicotine, but it can also lead to more serious problems like lung cancer and drug use. Sabrina Hall stated “there is no doubt in my mind that cigarettes are a gateway drug. About five months after I started smoking I started doing drugs… almost everyone I know, except for three people, started smoking before doing drugs. That has to tell you something” (Winters 22). People who smoke may think that it is not a harmful thing. Although smoking itself is bad for anyone, it can definitely lead to worse drugs and disease. When the cigarette and alcohol companies try to advertise to teens they obviously show no concern or guilt for what will happen to the kids in the future.
It seems that, when it comes to the tobacco and alcohol business, the companies do not care about what is best for their consumers. If they truly did care, they would stress all the dangers and consequences teens – and all people for that matter – may encounter. People should want to keep today’s youth healthy; tobacco and alcohol industries are showing to be of no help with their youth-targeting advertisements.

Works Cited

Jacobson, Peter D., Paula M. Lantz, Kenneth E. Warner, Jeffrey Wasserman, Harold A.

Pollack, and Alexis K. Ahlstom. Combating Teen Smoking. MI: The University

of Michigan Press, 2001.

Nakaya, Andrea C.. Opposing Viewpoints Alcohol. Farmington Hills MI: Greenhaven

Press, 2008.

Schaler, Jeffrey A., and Magda E. Schaler. Smoking Who Has the Right?. New York:

Prometheus Books, 1998.

Torr, James D.. Teens and Alcohol. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 2002.

Truly, Tracy. Teen Rights (And Responsibilities). 2nd. Naperville IL: Sphinx Publishing,


Winters, Paul A.. Teen Addiction. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 1997.

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This article has 5 comments.

Anoma21 said...
on Mar. 26 2010 at 10:48 am
Im going to have to disagree with your stance on this issue. Now I'm not saying that teens should drink or smoke but it's very hard to prove that companies are marketing to any specific group and while i believe that many kids smoke and drink because they think it's "cool" I disagree with the statement that this is caused by the advertisements or the companies. They think it's cool because it's something that they see adults doing that they can't, They pine for the freedom to do the same and view it as cool when they see another teen taking their rights into their own hands. So, while teens shouldn't drink or smoke, your campaign against the companies and ads are unjustified because people shouldn't blame others for their own actions. That's the greatest injustice.

on Jan. 22 2010 at 11:42 am
toxic.monkey SILVER, Tashkent, Other
6 articles 0 photos 210 comments

Favorite Quote:
"Homo homini lupus"

this is a very good essay!

BUT i still think that at our age (teen) we should already be thinking for ourselves. we KNOW that smoking and drinking may lead to serious problems and even death but it doesn't register, because we are coddled to the point of forgetting the consequences. to me, "the crowd" has never been a very good argument but I know that fitting in is extremely important to some people (anybody, explain WHY) and that's why they harm their own health. which FAILS EPICALLY

person 101 said...
on Sep. 30 2009 at 1:05 pm
wow this is good i have a whole new prospective bout this now

Jaquie BRONZE said...
on Sep. 8 2009 at 4:46 pm
Jaquie BRONZE, West Palm Beach, Florida
3 articles 0 photos 407 comments

Favorite Quote:
This is certainly one of my favorites: "I will become even more undignified than this, and I will be humiliated in my own eyes." -2 Samuel 6:22

I think this relates a great deal with what I write about. I liked your article. Its seemed very professional. Keep writing.

God bless,


on Sep. 3 2009 at 12:05 pm
Abigail Hewins BRONZE, Wiscasset, Maine
1 article 0 photos 3 comments
Wow dude that is a powerful passage.......