Although the majority of adult smokers want to quit, young people still take up smoking eagerly. Experimentation and regular tobacco use among adolescents remains high, with approximately one million young people taking up the habit each year. One key influence often advanced is the mass media. Mass media are presumed to directly encourage adolescent smoking since young people encounter numerous pro-smoking messages through advertisements, billboards, point-of-purchase displays and movie and TV depictions. However, the extent and nature of mass media influences on smoking behaviors remains unclear. This seems particularly problematic given recent research indicating that intensive anti-smoking media campaigns have not reduced smoking uptake among youth. However, recent innovative theoretical work on indirect media effects may help clarify media influences on smoking adoption. The indirect effects model suggests that, apart from any direct influence on themselves, young people assume smoking messages will influence their peers. This presumed media influence on peers and peer norms may cause individuals to overestimate the percentage of peers who smoke or feel favorable toward smoking. In turn, this media impact on perceived peer norms can powerfully affect a young person's own smoking attitudes and behaviors. This exploratory study will test a hypothetical model of mass media's direct and indirect influences on adolescent smoking uptake while controlling for established demographic and social predictors. A clearer picture of both direct and indirect media impact could advance the design of strategic media campaigns and also better inform public policy concerning smoking-related media content.
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