In 1998, tobacco industry moguls like Philip Morris, R.J. Reynolds, Brown and Williamson, Lorillard and Liggett had agreed to support the Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement as a part of anti-smoking efforts, and stop targeting children with glossy ads featuring cartoon characters and removing tobacco billboards and bus bench ads.
However, Rand Corporation researchers have found that kids still remain a part of the industry's advertising strategy.
The researchers evaluated compliance by observing outdoor advertisements for one year during 2004 and 2005, in 106 census tracts in pre-Katrina New Orleans, as well as 114 census tracts in Los Angeles County.
They found that in Los Angeles, 25 percent of tobacco ads and 37 percent of alcohol ads were located within 500 feet of a school, playground or church.
About 20 percent of tobacco and alcohol ads in Louisiana were within 500 feet, where, 26 percent of tract residents were underage. In Los Angeles County tracts, 28 percent were minors.
"You have these small media, posted multiple times in multiple locations," said Molly Scott, lead study author and a Rand Corporation researcher.
"These are not huge billboards, so they [tobacco companies] are complying. But in the big sense of things, not so much."
The tobacco ads were also not complying with the terms of their size and frequency.
Of 130 alcohol ads observed in Los Angeles, more than half were either extra-large billboards (14 feet by 48 feet) or average size (12 feet by 24 feet). In Louisiana, 61 percent of the alcohol ads were average size (12 feet by 24 feet).
Of 81 tobacco billboards observed in Los Angeles, 99 percent were posters, banners or fliers, and 27 percent of those appeared two to four times in the same location.
In Louisiana, 25 percent of 154 tobacco ads were small billboards, while 71 percent were posters, fliers or banners. About 66 percent appeared two to four times in the same location.
"Maybe one of the unintended consequences of the MSA [the master settlement agreement] is more local targeting," Scott added.
Stephen Freitas, chief marketing officer for the Outdoor Advertising Association of America said that store-owners could place some small advertisements - without brand name attachments - announcing that cigarettes are on sale.
He added that the organization does not specifically consider banners and posters outdoor advertising.
As far as the advertising industry's efforts, "We're not aware of members deliberately or aggressively violating the voluntary pledge," said Freitas.