|By Harry Trott||
|February 20, 2017 02:18 PM EST|
Every year, a combined total of more than $25 billion is spent on advertising for tobacco, alcohol, and prescription drugs. The reason for such a large spending has more to do with creating new habits among young individuals than reaching out to adults and active consumers of these substances. For this reason, alcohol, cigarettes, and marijuana are popularly referred to gateway drugs since they initiate habits of substance use which has deadly effects.
Understanding the effect of advertising, promotion, and even glorification (by the entertainment industry) of these substances is critical to setting up suitable preventive measures. It’s far easier to prevent an individual from starting or getting used to drinking, smoking, or taking prescription drugs than it is to have them quit after years of dependency. To tackle this burden on the healthcare system and the lives of countless families, understanding the psychology behind the marketing campaigns is vital.
Traditionally, tobacco advertising has been effective through subtle messaging that is aimed specifically at insecurities found among young individuals. It’s the reason why cigarette ads target masculinity in males and sex appeal and independence in females. Helping advertisers achieve this goal is the entertainment industry which depicts villains and ‘bad guys’ as smokers. With young males in the rebellious phase of their lives, they are likely to pick up on this messaging and take to smoking.
While tobacco-based messaging has been around for decades, there is a new-entrant in this space in the form e-cigarette advertising. This is a result of steady growth experienced in the industry which is expected to cross $10 billion by this year. Despite their similarity to tobacco-based smoking, there has yet to be any conclusive proof that e-cig advertising pushes young adolescents towards picking the habit. In countries like the UK, laws actively prevent e-cig advertisers from adopting marketing strategies (like the use of celebrities) that could appeal to children.
Perhaps the worst offenders in promoting substance abuse are alcohol manufacturers. Since consumption of alcohol is legal and socially acceptable, advertisers face less restrictions which is why alcohol ads are often seen during prime-time television. Alcohol advertisements are aspirational and use images of cheerful, attractive, and successful young people enjoying life to appeal to their target crowd. Helping alcohol manufacturers promote a culture of drinking is the entertainment industry with music videos, TV shows, and movies all normalizing alcohol use as a part of a normal functioning adulthood. With young people running into images and depictions of alcohol use at every turn of their life, these risk factors need to be monitored closely for onset of alcohol use which can easily evolve into alcohol abuse.
Prescription Drug Advertising
Pharmaceutical firms spend more than twice as much money on marketing their drugs than on its research and development. As a result of their efforts, their audience (including young people) clearly believes there is a pill for almost every every occasion. For example, consider how meticulously drug companies market drugs for sexual intercourse such as Viagra, Levitra, and Cialis. Whereas drug companies focus on legal prescription drugs, the entertainment industry plays its role in promoting and making illegal drug use ‘seem cool.’ Movies such as Harold and Kumar and Pineapple Express along with TV shows such as Breaking Bad all play their part in influencing adolescents by alluding to drug use as fashionable behavior.
Young people are easily influenced and with advertisers taking advantage and the entertainment industry lending a helping hand, better counter programs need to be developed and taught in schools. Simply stating how disastrous substance abuse can be on health of young individuals will not be enough to prevent initiation as young people believe themselves to be invincible.
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