Tobacco Industry Watch

Warning to Parents:
How Big Tobacco Targets Kids Today

Report Released March 21, 2012

Despite legal settlements and laws that have curtailed some of their marketing, tobacco companies still spend huge sums — more than $10 billion a year — to promote their deadly and addictive products, and they continue to entice and addict America’s kids.

The recently released 2012 Surgeon General’s report, Preventing Tobacco Use Among Youth and Young Adults, concluded that the scientific evidence “consistently and coherently points to the intentional marketing of tobacco products to youth as being a cause of young people’s tobacco use.”

Link to Slideshow


Tobacco marketing is less visible in the United States today because tobacco ads are banned on television, radio and billboards and less common in magazines and newspapers. The tobacco industry has been shamed into retiring Joe Camel and the Marlboro Man, the notorious marketing icons that lured kids for so long.  But tobacco companies continues to aggressively market their products, and their strategies often have the greatest impact on kids — the “replacement smokers” the industry needs for the 443,000 Americans who die every year from tobacco-related diseases.

Tobacco companies spend $10.5 billion a year — more than one million dollars an hour and nearly $29 million each day — to market cigarettes and smokeless tobacco products in the U.S., according to the latest reports on tobacco marketing issued by the Federal Trade Commission (for 2007 and 2008).  Despite restrictions placed on tobacco marketing by the 1998 legal settlement between the states and tobacco companies, tobacco companies increased their total marketing expenditures by 52 percent between 1998 and 2008.

Recent trends in tobacco marketing

Heavy marketing and discounting in convenience stores
Tobacco companies today spend more than 90 percent of their total marketing budget — nearly $10 billion a year — to advertise and promote their products in convenience stores, gas stations and other retail outlets. Tobacco companies pay stores billions to ensure that cigarettes and other tobacco products are advertised heavily, displayed prominently and priced cheaply to appeal to kids and current tobacco users. This marketing is very effective at reaching kids because two-thirds of teenagers visit a convenience store at least once a week. Studies have shown that exposure to tobacco marketing in stores and price discounts increase youth smoking.

Increased marketing of smokeless tobacco
Tobacco companies have significantly increased marketing of smokeless tobacco products, and they have introduced an array of colorfully-packaged and sweetly-flavored smokeless products, some of which look, taste and are packaged like candy. Since the 1998 settlement, smokeless tobacco marketing has skyrocketed by 277 percent to $547.9 million in 2008. In addition to marketing traditional chewing tobacco in kid-friendly flavors such as cherry, apple and citrus, tobacco companies have introduced new dissolvable and easily concealed tobacco products, called sticks, strips and orbs, that look like mints, breath strips and toothpicks.

Proliferation of cheap, sweet-flavored “little cigars”
Tobacco companies have introduced a growing number of smaller cigars, called little cigars or cigarillos, with sweet flavors, colorful packaging and cheap prices, all of which makes them appealing to kids. These products come in flavors such as peach, apple, grape and cherry and carry names such as “Swisher Sweets” and “Sugarillos.”

New versions of cigarette brands most popular with kids
Tobacco companies know that Marlboro, Newport and Camel are the three most popular cigarette brands among youth smokers. They keep these brands fresh and appealing by introducing new brand extensions such as Marlboro Black, Newport Red and Camel Crush.


Related Video

  • Link to YouTube Video entitled"Irreplaceable"

    Video: "Irreplaceable": Big Tobacco spends one million dollars every hour to recruit kids as "replacement smokers" for the over 400,000 Americans killed each year by tobacco.

    Video by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids and Y Street, the Virginia Foundation for Healthy Youth's teen volunteer group.