Advertising and the Tobacco Industry

views updated

Advertising and the Tobacco Industry

Tobacco companies spend more than $5 billion annually to advertise and promote cigarettes and other tobacco products. The companies

Cigarette makerDollars spent on advertising (in millions)Percent of adolescents who said this was their favorite brandPercent of adults who said this was their favorite brand
source: 1993 TAPS II, The Maxwell Consumer Report 1994, Ad & Summary 1993.

claim that the purpose of their advertising is simply to provide information and to influence brand selection among current smokers, although only about 10 percent of smokers switch brands in any one year. Every year more than one million adult smokers stop smoking and almost a half-million other adult smokers die from smoking-related diseases. Therefore the tobacco companies must recruit an average of 3,300 new young smokers every day to replace those who die or stop smoking. Tobacco companies argue that smoking is an adult habit and that adult smokers choose to smoke. However, medical research has shown that cigarette addiction almost always begins before the age of 18. Adults who smoke started as children and could not quit.

Government regulates the advertising of pharmaceuticals , alcoholic beverages, and tobacco. But restrictions on the tobacco industry have been few. The basic regulations state that companies (1) cannot use paid advertising on television or radio, (2) cannot claim what they cannot prove (for example, that low-tar cigarettes are less hazardous to health), and (3) must include one of four warnings on cigarette packages and ads.

The fact that warning labels are printed on a pack of cigarettes has been successfully used by the tobacco companies as a defense against tobacco victims' lawsuits. This situation changed in 1997 and early 1998, when Florida, Minnesota, Mississippi, and Texas reached an agreement with the major tobacco companies and won compensation for the effects of smoking on their health-care expenses. On November 23, 1998, the major tobacco companies entered into a multibillion-dollar agreement with the other forty-six states. The Master Settlement Agreement settled lawsuits brought by the states and some organizations that wanted the tobacco companies to pay them back for costs related to the effect of smoking on public health. Under this agreement, the states and tobacco companies jointly

[Image not available for copyright reasons]

agreed on three major goals: (1) to try to reduce youth smoking, (2) to create new public health initiatives, and (3) to establish important new rules the tobacco companies must follow when doing business. In Florida a two-year education effort and ad campaign begun after the agreement was followed by a decrease in the number of teen smokers. After this campaign middle-school smoking was reduced by more than half, and smoking among high-school students was lowered by 24 percent.

Regulations on Tobacco Promotion

The Master Settlement Agreement changed the way cigarette companies can market, advertise, and promote their cigarettes. These are some of the rules:

  • No participating manufacturer may take any action, directly or indirectly, to target youth in the advertising, promotion, or marketing of its products. No action can be taken whose main purpose is to initiate, maintain, or increase youth smoking.
  • Billboards, stadium signs, and transit signs advertising tobacco are banned. Stores selling tobacco may have signs up to fourteen square feet inside or outside their stores.
  • The use of cartoon characters in advertising, promoting, packaging, or labeling of tobacco products is banned. This does not cover the standard Camel cigarettes logo , a simple drawing of a camel. The Marlboro man and other human characters can continue to be used. By the early 1990s, "Joe Camel," used by RJR Nabisco to advertise the Camel brand, had become the center of the most effective advertising campaign ever created to influence the values and behavior of young people. The cartoon symbol had boosted Camel's share of the teenage market from next to nothing to almost 35 percent in just three years. The Master Settlement Agreement prohibits RJR Nabisco from using this character in any future advertising.
  • Participating manufacturers and others licensed by them may no longer market, distribute, offer or sell, or license any clothing or merchandise bearing a tobacco brand name.
  • Free product sampling is banned anywhere, except for a facility or enclosed space where the operator can ensure that no minors are present.
  • No use of a tobacco-brand name as part of the name of a stadium is allowed.
  • Cigarette manufacturers should advertise and promote their products only to adult smokers and will support the enactment and enforcement of state laws prohibiting the sales of cigarettes to persons under 18 years of age.

Rules applying specifically to advertisements are as follows:

  • Cigarette advertising will not appear in publications directed primarily at those under 21 years of age, including school, college, or university media (such as athletic, theatrical, or other programs), comic books or comic supplements.
  • No one depicted in cigarette advertising will be or appear to be under 25 years of age.
  • Cigarette advertising will not suggest that smoking helps a person socially or that smoking can help people achieve distinction, success, or sexual attraction.
  • Cigarette advertising will not show anyone who is or has been well known as an athlete to be a smoker. It will not show any smoker participating in, or obviously just having participated in, a physical activity requiring stamina or athletic conditioning beyond that of normal recreation.
  • Sports or other celebrities who would have special appeal to persons under 21 will not be used to give testimonials about smoking.

The Effectiveness of Regulations

It is important to note that the tobacco companies have always found ways to get around restrictions. For example, once billboard advertising was banned, the companies simply increased their level of advertising in magazines, many of which are read by teenagers. In a survey, for example, 73 percent of teens (aged 12–17) reported seeing tobacco advertising in the previous two weeks compared to only 33 percent of adults.

The same survey also revealed that 77 percent of teens said it was easy for people under the age of 18 to buy cigarettes and other tobacco products. Many displays of cigarettes in convenience stores are at waist level, making them available to children. Campaigns to restrict access to cigarettes by youths under the age of 18 have not been very successful.

In his memoirs, former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop said this about the tobacco industry: "After studying in depth the health hazards of smoking, I was dumbfounded—and furious. How could the tobacco industry trivialize extraordinarily important public-health information: the connection between smoking and heart disease, lung and other cancers, and a dozen or more debilitating and expensive diseases? The answer was—it just did."

Understanding the Smoking Habit

Almost all smokers started before the age of 21. Most begin smoking before the age of 18, and many before the age of 14. Young people who learn to inhale the cigarette smoke and experience the mood-altering effects from the inhaled nicotine quickly become dependent on cigarettes. Having developed a nicotine dependence, they find they must continue smoking to avoid the unpleasant side effects of nicotine withdrawal . The younger people are when they begin smoking, the more dependent they seem to become—and the sooner they start to experience smoking-related health problems. Six years of research at the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University revealed that a person who gets to the age of 21 without smoking, using illegal drugs, or abusing alcohol is virtually certain never to do so.

A survey conducted by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services among high school students who smoked half a pack of cigarettes a day found that 53 percent had tried to quit but could not. When asked whether they would be smoking five years later, only 5 percent said they would be—but eight years later, 75 percent were still smoking.

The Purpose of Cigarette Advertising

The tobacco companies have become masters at using advertising and promotional programs to help them accomplish several major objectives:

  1. To reassure current smokers that smoking is not necessarily harmful. Thousands of studies show the adverse health effects of smoking. The warning labels on cigarette packages themselves make this clear. Yet until a landmark legal case in Florida in 2000, when a jury found that cigarettes are in fact deadly and addictive, the tobacco industry continued to claim that no one had yet proven that smoking causes health problems.
  2. To associate smoking with enjoyment. In their ads, tobacco companies show healthy young people enjoying parties, dancing, sporting events, picnics at the beach, sailing, and so on. The ads imply that if you smoke, you too will have the kind of good times enjoyed by the smokers in the ads.
  3. To associate smoking with other risk-taking activities. Ads for cigarettes often show people in such risky activities as ballooning, mountain climbing, sky diving, and motorcycle riding. This is the industry's way of saying: Go ahead and take a risk by smoking—you are capable of deciding how much risk you want to take. The tobacco companies are betting that most young people do not think any bad effects of smoking will ever happen to them.
  4. To associate cigarette smoking with becoming an adult. Teenagers want to be seen as adults. They want to be free to make their own decisions, without anyone telling them what they can and cannot do. The tobacco companies understand this. They stress that smoking is an adult habit—that only adults have the right to choose whether or not to smoke. So the simple act of smoking cigarettes becomes the perfect way for a teenager to show the world that he or she is an adult.
  5. To associate cigarette smoking with attractiveness. Many ads for cigarettes imply that if you smoke, you will also be attractive to members of the opposite sex. In fact, surveys of young adults show that most people prefer to date nonsmokers.
  6. To associate smoking with women's rights. For years the advertising theme for Virginia Slims cigarettes was "You've come a long way baby." Women were supposed to feel that along with women's liberation came the freedom to smoke. What the ads did not say is that women who smoke like men will die like men who smoke. In the 1990s lung cancer became the number-one cancer found in women, exceeding the incidence of breast cancer.
  7. To show that smoking is an essential part of our society. The sheer number of cigarette ads—on billboards, on t-shirts, on signs at ballgames—along with movies in which actors are seen smoking leaves the impression that smoking is socially acceptable by the majority of people. The message is that everybody is doing it.
  8. To gain legitimacy . Tobacco companies spend millions of dollars to support educational programs, arts organizations, historical commemorations, and other popular endeavors. In this way, they try to borrow a positive image from the event or program they sponsor.

see also Advertising and the Alcohol Industry; Tobacco: History of; Tobacco: Industry.


See Substance Abuse and AIDS

About this article

Advertising and the Tobacco Industry

Updated About content Print Article