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United States Smokeless Tobacco Caught Increasing Marketing to Kids after Signing Agreement to Stop

Statement by Matthew L. Myers, President Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
June 04, 2002

Washington, DC — Warning: this story may sound very familiar. A new study by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health shows that the country's largest smokeless tobacco manufacturer, United States Smokeless Tobacco Company (USST), spent more than $9 million advertising in magazines with high youth readership in 2001 – three years after signing a November 1998 legal settlement with the states in which it promised to stop targeting kids. Average annual USST spending on advertising in youth-oriented magazines, those with more than 15 percent youth readership or more than two million youth readers, increased from $5.4 million in 1997 and 1998, the two years before the settlement, to $6.1 million in 1999-2001. USST advertising in such magazines totaled $9.4 million in 2001, an increase of 161 percent from $3.6 million in 1997. Nearly half of the company's advertising (45 percent) continued to be in youth-oriented magazines after the settlement.

USST has sought to portray itself as a responsible company and recently asked the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to issue an advisory opinion allowing smokeless tobacco manufacturers to advertise their products as significantly less hazardous than cigarettes. This new study is powerful evidence that USST has not acted responsibly and its request to the FTC should be denied. While USST claims that it only wishes to promote its products as a 'safer alternative' for addicted adult smokers unable to quit, the new study indicates USST could use the authority to make such claims to market even more effectively to children or adults who do not already use tobacco products. The result would not be few smokers, but more smokeless tobacco users and more addiction, disease and death.

In addition to calling on the FTC to reject USST's request, we also call on USST to make an immediate commitment to permanently eliminate all advertising in magazines with more than 15 percent youth readership or more than two million youth readers. If it is serious about protecting the public health, USST should also withdraw its request to the FTC and join the public health community in urging Congress to pass legislation granting the U.S. Food and Drug Administration effective authority to regulate all tobacco products. The FDA, not the FTC, has the necessary scientific authority to protect the public health. We also call on the state attorneys general to investigate USST's advertising practices and aggressively enforce the provision of the state smokeless tobacco settlement prohibiting the targeting of youth.

It is not just the amount, but also the type of advertising by USST that is disturbing. One series of ads for USST's 'Rooster' brand features bold headlines such as 'Cock-A-Doodle-Freakin'-Do,' 'Birds of A Feather Party Together' and 'Where's the Chicks?' These along with a recent Skoal campaign that includes a photo of a jet skier along with the headline 'A Splash Bolder' are all clearly created to appeal to rebellious teens. These ads have appeared in youth-oriented magazines such as Rolling Stone and Sports Illustrated.

In addition to its continued marketing to kids, USST also continues to deny the harm caused by the use of smokeless tobacco products. Despite the conclusions of Congress, the U.S. Surgeon General and numerous scientific studies that smokeless tobacco products cause serious diseases, including cancer, USST's filing with the FTC argues that 'smokeless tobacco has not been shown to be the cause of any human disease.'

Adding to the evidence of harm caused by smokeless tobacco use, a study slated for publication in the journal Nicotine and Tobacco Research finds a strong correlation between use of smokeless tobacco and eventual smoking. The study, by Dr. Scott Tomar of the University of Florida College of Dentistry, found that males aged 12-17 who were not smokers but regularly used smokeless tobacco were more than three times as likely as non-tobacco users to be current smokers. In a recent letter to the FTC urging the rejection of USST's request, Dr. Tomar writes, 'Based on this study, it appears that smokeless tobacco may be a starter product for subsequent smoking among young US males, but may have little effect on quitting smoking.'

USST's continued marketing to kids and its continued deception about the harm caused by smokeless tobacco products raise serious questions about its credibility and sincerity in arguing to the FTC that it wants to play a constructive role in reducing the harm caused by tobacco use in the United States.

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