Advertising for alcohol and cigarettes should be banned

04.12.2019 14:00

What good are advertising bans for tobacco or alcohol? Evidence from two Cochrane reviews

Georg Rüschemeyer Press and public relations
Cochrane Germany Foundation (CDS)

Should public advertising for tobacco be banned in Germany, for example in the cinema or on billboards, in order to protect young people in particular from addiction? The question is currently heating up again. Bans on advertising for alcohol, e-cigarettes, fast food or unhealthy children's foods are also up for discussion. A central question is how big the effect of advertising bans really is. Two systematic reviews published in the Cochrane Library some time ago summarize evidence on this topic and could help objectify the debate.

The Cochrane Review "Impact of tobacco advertising and promotion on increasing adolescent smoking behaviors" from 2011 includes 19 studies in which a total of more than 29,000 children and adolescents between 8 and 18 years of age who did not smoke at the beginning of the investigation. The studies, which were carried out between 1983 and 2008, attempted to measure, in various ways, how much the participants were exposed to tobacco advertising or how receptive they were to the advertising. In 18 of 19 studies, the likelihood of later smoking was found to be higher in those participants who were exposed to more advertising or who had consumed it more consciously. The authors conclude that tobacco advertising makes it more likely that teenagers will start smoking.

The 2014 Cochrane Review “Restricting or banning alcohol advertising to reduce alcohol consumption in adults and adolescents” included only four original studies According to the authors' conclusion, no clear effect of advertising bans can be derived from the available evidence due to these limitations.

Both Cochrane reviews discuss the considerable methodological limitations of the underlying evidence. That is in the nature of things: The effects of advertising or advertising bans on consumer behavior are very difficult to investigate in an experimental setting. On the other hand, there is mostly a lack of observational studies that, for example, track the tobacco consumption of young people before and after the introduction of an advertising ban in a country, mostly a comparison group. This complicates the causal association between observed changes (e.g. in alcohol consumption) and their presumed causes (e.g. a ban on advertising).

Additional information
Both reviews are waiting for an update to take into account more recent evidence. Not by Cochrane, but a little more up-to-date, is a review article that appeared in the Journal of Public Health Management and Practice in 2018. ( It evaluates the evidence for various political measures against tobacco consumption and comes to the conclusion that advertising bans for tobacco are effective and could reduce the proportion of smokers in the population by around five percent. An increase in tobacco tax by 50 percent would be even more effective - according to the study, this could reduce the proportion of smokers by almost 20 percent.

About Cochrane
Cochrane is a global, independent network of scientists, health professionals, patients and other interested parties. Around 11,000 members and over 68,000 supporters from over 130 countries contribute to its work. Based on rigorous scientific methods, Cochrane provides systematic reviews of health information that are reliable and free of commercial conflicts of interest.
Every Cochrane Review is devoted to a clearly formulated question. To answer these questions, a team of authors looks for all existing original studies that meet the previously defined inclusion criteria. The included studies are then evaluated to determine whether there is reliable evidence on a particular treatment, diagnostic, or preventive measure. If possible, the individual results are combined in a meta-analysis. Cochrane reviews are peer-reviewed by subject matter experts prior to publication. Over 8000 reviews are currently available on In addition to the often very detailed full text, various short formats are available. Reviews that are particularly relevant for clinical practice are presented under "Clinical Answers" in a question-and-answer format.

Original publication:

Impact of tobacco advertising and promotion on increasing adolescent smoking behaviors.
Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2011 Oct 5; (10): CD003439. doi: 10.1002 / 14651858.CD003439.pub2.

Restricting or banning alcohol advertising to reduce alcohol consumption in adults and adolescents.
Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2014 Nov 4; (11): CD010704. doi: 10.1002 / 14651858.CD010704.pub2.

Features of this press release:
Nutrition / health / care, medicine
Research / knowledge transfer, research results