The power of suggestion: drugs, cigarettes, and teens

We take the press releases that we receive from drug abuse prevention organizations very seriously. They almost always provide information about the latest trend in drugs or substance abuse and urge us to warn parents so they will  talk to their kids.

Courtesy NIH

Nutmeg, bath salts, compressed air, household chemicals- it’s hard to fathom some of the substances that children and young adults will try in attempt to fit in with the crowd, or use as a means of escape from a life that has become unbearable.

It’s sad.

Often, there isn’t much data available that shows just how many incidents with these substances landed kids in the E.R., or worse yet, resulted in death. It could be a very small number of cases in a few isolated areas.

Sometimes, we wonder if by reporting today’s drug du jour, we’re simply adding fuel to the fire, providing yet another source of information that is highly searchable by curious kids who are looking for ideas on which substance to try.

Adolescents are highly vulnerable to the power of suggestion from mass media messages.  For example, a new study to be published in the February 2011 issue of Pediatrics finds that cigarette advertising is a powerful lure to initiate smoking.

Researchers showed six cigarette advertisements and six advertisements from other products (candy, cell phones, etc) to 2,102 German adolescents who never smoked and asked the teens how often they had seen the ads.

The group was then monitored for nine months to determine the rate of smoking initiation.

Of the original group, approximately 277 adolescents began smoking during the course of the study.

Initiation of smoking was associated with increased exposure to cigarette advertising but not to control ads. Those who saw the most cigarette advertising were more likely to begin smoking in the future.

These results, say the American Academy of Pediatrics, support a comprehensive ban on tobacco advertising.

Mass media messages are strong and effective, no matter what the source. But knowledge is power, and parents are by far the most influential providers of information to children. Talk to your kids about substance abuse — early and often.





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