Smokeless Tobacco Ads Push Flavored Products and Target Current Smokers
Marketing shift threatens kids and undercuts quitting efforts
Posted by: Editor | Apr 11, 2011
The 21st-century version of the "light" and "low tar" ruse that kept smokers hooked despite their health concerns may well be the emergence of a new marketing strategy for smokeless tobacco that pushes these harmful products as an alternative to cigarettes.
A new study conducted by Legacy clearly documents a shift in smokeless tobacco magazine advertising away from a determined focus on men's sporting and leisure publications toward general-interest magazines aimed at a much broader market. The industry is increasingly pushing flavored products — which could influence kids to start using smokeless tobacco. And it's trying to attract smokers who are restricted from lighting up due to the success of smoke-free air policies — when the best step they could take for their health is to quit.
"The industry is attempting to expand its target audience and entice new, non-traditional users," the study concluded.
The researchers examined ads during two periods, 1998-1999 and 2005-2006. In the earlier period, almost all smokeless tobacco ads appeared in men's leisure magazines, such as Field and Stream and Outdoor Life, with only about 6 percent appearing in general-interest magazines .
But the proportion of smokeless ads appearing in more widely read magazines such as Newsweek and Entertainment Weekly increased to 20 percent during the 2005-2006 timeframe. So did the proportion of ads that presented smokeless tobacco as an alternative to cigarettes: This marketing message was used in only 2 percent of smokeless ads during the earlier period, but skyrocketed to 35.6 percent of the themes found in the more recent ads. Moreover, 70.7 percent of the newer ads featured flavored products.
Is the new strategy working? Unfortunately, recent trends in smokeless tobacco use seem to show it is.
Smokeless tobacco use by high school boys is climbing — there's been a 36 percent increase since 2003. And both boys and men are using both cigarettes and smokeless products: More than a third of men over 25 who used smokeless tobacco on some days also smoked cigarettes every day, according to a 2010 study. And high school boys who used smokeless tobacco were five times more likely to smoke half a pack of cigarettes a day, compared with boys who didn't use smokeless.
The alarming consequence of current smokeless tobacco products and their marketing is that it's addicting boys and hurting public health. Smokeless tobacco causes oral cancer, gum disease and tooth decay, and increases the risk of heart disease. It has also been linked to cancers of the esophagus, pharynx, larynx, stomach and pancreas.
The best thing a smoker who is constrained by smoke-free laws can do is gain freedom from tobacco by quitting. And the best step for the public health community to take is to mobilize against the tobacco industry's latest trickery.
The smokeless tobacco advertisement featured here ran in Newsweek on June 6 and April 11, 2005 in Entertainment Weekly in the April 29-May 6, 2005 issue; and in the April 2005 issue of Golf Digest.