Despite legal settlements and laws that have curtailed their marketing, tobacco companies still spend huge sums – $8.8 billion a year – to market their deadly and addictive products, and they continue to entice and addict America’s kids.
The 2012 U.S. Surgeon General’s report, Preventing Tobacco Use Among Youth and Young Adults, concluded that 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.”
Tobacco marketing is less prominent in the United States today because of restrictions imposed by federal laws and the 1998 legal settlement between the tobacco companies and the states. The tobacco industry has also been shamed into retiring Joe Camel and the Marlboro Man, the notorious marketing icons that lured kids for so long.
But tobacco marketing is far from gone. Tobacco companies keep finding new ways to circumvent restrictions and aggressively market their products. Their strategies often have the greatest impact on kids – the “replacement smokers” (as one tobacco company document put it) for the more than 480,000 Americans who die each year from tobacco-related diseases.
Tobacco companies spend $8.8 billion a year – that’s $24 million each day, $1 million every hour – to market cigarettes and smokeless tobacco products in the U.S., according to the latest Federal Trade Commission reports on tobacco marketing (for 2011). Here are some of the marketing strategies they currently use to entice kids:
Tobacco companies now spend more than 94 percent ($8.3 billion) of their total marketing budget to advertise and promote their products in convenience stores, gas stations and other retail outlets. Big Tobacco pays billions to ensure that cigarettes and other tobacco products are displayed prominently, advertised heavily and priced cheaply to attract kids and retain current users. This marketing is effective at reaching kids because two-thirds of teenagers visit a convenience store or other neighborhood retailer at least once a week. Studies have shown that exposure to tobacco marketing in stores and price discounts increase youth smoking.
SLICK ADS IN MAGAZINES WITH LARGE YOUTH READERSHIPS
Tobacco companies continue to advertise their products – including cigarettes, smokeless tobacco and electronic cigarettes – in magazines with large youth readerships, such as Sports Illustrated, ESPN the Magazine, Rolling Stone, Glamour and People. In fact, several of the most popular tobacco brands among youth have recently returned to advertising in magazines after several years’ absence, including Camel cigarettes and the Skoal and Copenhagen smokeless tobacco brands. Echoing themes the industry has long used to target kids, current ads portray smoking and other tobacco use as fun, glamorous, sexy and rugged.
FLAVORED TOBACCO PRODUCTS
Cigars, Smokeless tobacco and E-Cigarettes
While a 2009 federal law banned candy and fruit-flavored cigarettes, this prohibition didn’t include cigars, smokeless tobacco and e-cigarettes. Tobacco companies now market an array of cheap, sweet and colorfully packaged cigars, which often look and are smoked just like cigarettes. These cigars come with flavors such as chocolate, strawberry, peach and cherry and names such as “Swisher Sweets.” Market research has found that flavored products also make up more than half of smokeless tobacco sales. And a 2014 study found that e-cigarettes come in over 7,000 flavors, with names such as gummy bear and cotton candy that clearly appeal to kids.
E-CIGARETTE MARKETING THAT RE-GLAMORIZES TOBACCO USE
In recent years, tobacco companies have greatly increased their marketing of e-cigarettes, often using the same tactics long used to market regular cigarettes to kids. While cigarette ads have been banned on television since 1971, e-cigarette ads began airing in 2011, subjecting American kids to the first TV ads for tobacco products in their lifetimes. Celebrity endorsements, magazine ads, sponsorships of race cars and concerts, and sweet flavors further promote e-cigarettes. Portraying e-cigarettes as fun, rebellious and the cool new thing, this marketing threatens to re-glamorize tobacco use and reverse the progress in reducing youth tobacco use. Recent surveys have shown that youth e-cigarette use has skyrocketed and now exceeds youth use of regular cigarettes.
It’s no surprise that tobacco companies continue to target kids because their business model depends on it: They know that 90 percent of adult smokers start at or before age 18.
Numerous internal tobacco industry documents, revealed in lawsuits against the industry, show that the tobacco companies have long perceived adolescents as a key market, studied their smoking behavior and developed products and marketing campaigns aimed at them.
An R.J. Reynolds document infamously referred to young people as “the only source of replacement smokers” for those who quit smoking or die from tobacco-related disease. One Philip Morris document stated, “Today’s teenager is tomorrow’s potential regular customer.” Similarly, a Lorillard Tobacco document stated, “[T]he base of our business is the high school student.”
In August 2006, U.S. District Court Judge Gladys Kessler issued a landmark ruling that the tobacco companies have violated civil racketeering laws and defrauded the American people by lying for decades about the health risks of smoking and their marketing to children. Judge Kessler’s final opinion found that, from the 1950s to the present, the tobacco company defendants “have intentionally marketed to young people under the age of twenty-one in order to recruit ‘replacement smokers’ to ensure the economic future of the tobacco industry.”
Based on numerous scientific studies, public health authorities including the U.S. Surgeon General and the National Cancer Institute (NCI) have concluded that tobacco marketing causes youth tobacco use.
The most recent U.S. Surgeon General’s report, issued in January 2014, found that “the evidence is sufficient to conclude that advertising and promotional activities by the tobacco companies cause the onset and continuation of smoking among adolescents and young adults.” Furthermore, this report stated:
…the root cause of the smoking epidemic is also evident: the tobacco industry aggressively markets and promotes lethal and addictive products, and continues to recruit youth and young adults as new consumers of these products.
The 2012 Surgeon General’s report found that, while the tobacco industry has stated that its marketing only promotes brand choices among adult smokers, this marketing actually encourages underage youth to smoke: “Tobacco companies have long argued that their marketing efforts do not increase the overall demand for tobacco products and have no impact on the initiation of tobacco use among young people; rather, they argue they are competing with other companies for market share. In contrast, the weight of the evidence from extensive and increasingly sophisticated research conducted over the past few decades shows that the industry’s marketing activities have been a key factor in leading young people to take up tobacco, keeping some users from quitting, and achieving greater consumption among users.”
A comprehensive 2008 NCI report, The Role of the Media in Promoting and Reducing Tobacco Use, also concluded that tobacco company advertising and promotion is causally linked to increased tobacco use and youth smoking initiation. This report described how tobacco advertising targets specific populations, such as youth and young adults, by employing themes and messages that resonate with them. For example, tobacco advertisements suggest that smoking can satisfy adolescents’ need to be popular, feel attractive, take risks and avoid or manage stress.