Jul. 19 2000
Washington, DC — Twenty months ago, the major tobacco companies entered into a legal agreement with 46 states in which they promised not "to target youth." Since that time, they have spent hundreds of millions of dollars on a public relations campaign designed to convince the American public that they have changed and no longer market to kids.
Today, for the second time in recent months, we have fresh evidence that the tobacco companies have not stopped targeting our kids and in fact may be doing so more effectively than ever. Two months ago, we released studies showing that the tobacco companies have increased advertising in youth-oriented magazines by 33 percent since signing the Master Settlement Agreement with the states in November 1998.
Today, researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago are releasing a study showing that, since a settlement-mandated ban on tobacco billboard advertising took effect on April 24, 1999, the tobacco companies have substantially increased retail store advertising and promotions. This study shows once again that tobacco marketing is like a balloon – you squeeze it at one end and it increases somewhere else.
This shift from billboards to convenience stores is particularly galling since the tobacco companies consistently cite the billboard ban as prime evidence that they have changed. The billboard ban was supposed to reduce the pervasiveness of tobacco advertising in our culture and reduce kids' exposure to messages encouraging them to smoke. This study shows that the tobacco companies have found new ways to bombard kids with these messages, and they're doing it right in the neighborhood convenience stores where kids are most likely to hang out. Studies show that three out of four teenagers shop at a convenience store at least once a week, so convenience store advertising may be an even more effective way for tobacco companies to reach kids than billboards.
Today's study shows an alarming increase in retail store tobacco advertising and a pervasiveness of such advertising in our communities. The study found substantial increases in retail store advertising and promotions in almost all categories. As a result, 80 percent of convenience stores and other retail outlets had interior tobacco advertising after the billboard ban took effect. Sixty percent had exterior tobacco advertising. More than half had tobacco promotions such as price discounts and gifts with purchase. And 73 percent had functional objects, such as clocks, shopping baskets, or display shelving, with tobacco advertising.
This study shows once again that the tobacco companies will only change if they are forced to change. Today, we issue four calls to action:
We call on the State Attorneys General to broaden and intensify their investigation, begun in response to the increases in magazine advertising, into whether the tobacco companies are violating the state tobacco settlement, which prohibits the tobacco companies from taking "any action, directly or indirectly, to target youth." These recent marketing studies show that the tobacco industry has systematically and massively violated both the spirit and the intent of the agreement.
Although the wrongdoer is definitely the tobacco industry, we also call on convenience store owners and other retailers to voluntarily curtail these types of advertising and promotions.
We call on Congress to grant the U.S. Food and Drug Administration authority to regulate all aspects of tobacco manufacturing and marketing. The types of youth-oriented marketing identified in these studies would not have been permitted had the FDA's 1996 Rule gone into effect or had Congress passed the legislation introduced by Senator McCain in 1998. As a direct result of Congress' failure to act, the tobacco industry has been free to continue to market to our children.
We also call on Congress to reject efforts to grant special protection to the tobacco industry by cutting off funds for the U.S. Department of Justice lawsuit against the tobacco companies. This lawsuit is critical not only to recovering the billions of dollars that taxpayers and federal health programs have spent treating tobacco-caused disease, but also to stopping the harmful tobacco company practices identified in this report today. At a time when we are seeing more and more evidence that the tobacco companies continue to target kids, the last thing Congress should be doing is giving the tobacco companies special protection.
Last week, a jury in Florida told the country that it rejected the tobacco industry's arguments that it has changed. Today, with this study, we have further proof that their judgement was correct.