Current advertising regulations state that alcohol and tobacco companies are not allowed to feature models younger than twenty-five in their advertisements. Although this ruling was meant to protect teens from predatory advertising tactics, according to a recent study it may actually have the opposite effect.

Adolescence is an exciting yet frustrating period filled with wanting to do things that society insists you’re still too young to experience. As a result, many teenagers feel frustrated with their age and instead strive to emulate the lifestyles of free and independent young-adults. In a recent study published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology , a team of researchers found exactly teenagers’ age-related dissatisfaction influences their reaction towards advertising for age-restricted products, specifically cigarettes and alcohol.

Basic marketing theory states that consumers are more likely to spend money when they can relate to the model advertising a product. Similarity in age is a major driving factor behind persuasion to buy a product. For example, a teenage girl is more likely to buy a sweater modelled by an 18-year-old than she is one modelled by a 45-year-old. As a result, cigarette and alcohol industry are not allowed to use adults younger than twenty-five in their advertisements in order to protect adolescents. To investigate the effectiveness of this advertising regulation, researchers Cornelia Pechmann, Todd Pezzuti, and Dante Pirouz designed a mock magazine filled with various cigarette advertisements and asked teenagers how they ad’s affected their decision to pick up the habit.

According to the press release, results showed that, on average, advertisements featuring a 17-year-old model actually decreased the teenager’s desires to smoke . Advertisements featuring middle-aged 45-year-old smokers did not at all affect the teenagers decision to smoke. Surprisingly, the advertisements featuring 25-year-old models were found to increase teenagers' intent to smoke.

“The significance of our findings is that, while the cigarette and alcohol industries have agreed to use models that appear to be 25 years of age or older to protect adolescents, their efforts may be having the exact opposite effect," said Pechmann in a statement .

Although it’s not exactly clear why the young-adult models most persuaded teens to smoke, the team hypothesize that adolescent’s general dissatisfaction with their age may prompt them to want to behave more like young adults than individuals their own age.

Cigarette advertisements may elicit tension by reminding adolescents of their age limitations and prompting them to follow the actions of the young adults they see.

The findings suggest that, ultimately, the most effective way to discourage teenagers from smoking may be to feature models aged 45 and over in advertisements. Despite the discouraging news of this serious weakness in advertising regulations, research shows that both smoking and drinking are becoming increasingly unpopular among young Americans. Instead, marijuana seems to be the new drug-of-choice for young Americas. For example, a recent study from the University of Michigan found that for the first time in 35 years, more U.S. college students are smoking marijuana daily than those who smoke cigarettes.

Source: Pezzuti T, Pirouz D, Pechmann C. The effects of advertising models for age-restricted products and self-concept discrepancy on advertising outcomes among young adolescents. Journal of Consumer Psychology . 2015