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"Today's teenager is tomorrow's potential regular customer, and the overwhelming majority of smokers first begin to smoke while still in their teens." — Philip Morris, 1981

"Replacement" Customers

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While the tobacco industry claims they no longer target kids, they still use tactics to attract youth. They advertise in magazines, promote their products in convenience stores and market their brands through direct mail, websites and social media.

And while the tobacco industry agreed to stop paying for tobacco product placement in movies, cigarettes still appear in far too many youth-rated movies.

The tobacco industry even created youth prevention programs in an attempt to deflect public concern for youth smoking.

What impact does all this have? Of all adult smokers nationwide, 88 percent began smoking while in their teens, or earlier, and two-thirds became regular smokers before they reached the age of 19.1


In 1998, the tobacco industry signed the Master Settlement Agreement, vowing to stop targeting youth. However, in 2011, 48 percent of middle school and 54 percent of high school students reported seeing tobacco ads in magazines. Youth are also exposed to pro-tobacco images through the internet; in 2011, 40 percent of adolescents were exposed to pro-tobacco images on the internet.2

Direct Mailing

The tobacco industry has adapted to restrictions on print and television advertising by turning to other marketing methods. One such method is direct mailing to their target customers. Tobacco companies use direct mailing as a way of advertising and providing incentives for users to buy their products. Young people often get on tobacco-companies' mailing lists after providing their personal information in exchange for a tobacco-related coupon or smokeless sample at a bar promotion, or when completing an Internet survey.

Direct mail campaigns often use themes and images that appeal to youth. One example of this approach is RJR's "Camel Break Campaign," which was launched in late 2010. This campaign uses names and images of "cool" U.S. cities, including San Francisco, to market Camel cigarettes to appeal to the adventurous and rebellious spirit of young people.3

Internet Marketing

Tobacco companies use the Internet extensively to market their products.4 This is a particularly effective strategy to reach youth, who consume much of their media through new technologies. For tobacco companies, online marketing has the added benefit that many aspects of it are largely invisible to the casual observer.

Convenience Stores

A 2011 survey of tobacco retail outlets in California found that, on average, stores contain 20 pieces of tobacco marketing materials, including advertisements, brand displays, functional items and shelving units. Nearly half of convenience stores (47%) had at least one tobacco ad at young kids’ eye level (three feet or lower) and one in ten convenience stores placed tobacco advertisements near candy.5

Convenience stores are effective places for reaching youth. Seventy percent of adolescents shop in convenience stores at least weekly. In the first 10 years after the November 1998 legal settlement between the states and the tobacco companies (1999-2008), tobacco manufacturers spent more than $110 billion – 92% of their total marketing expenditures – to advertise and promote cigarettes and smokeless tobacco products in the retail environment, according to the Federal Trade Commission.6 And it has been widely documented that in-store marketing is an important way for tobacco companies to promote their products to hook new, young smokers and keep smokers from quitting.

Tobacco products also come in candy flavors like coconut-pineapple, lime, mint, berry and toffee. While candy-flavored cigarettes were banned in 2009 by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the ban does not apply to non-cigarette tobacco products, such as cigarillos and e-cigarettes. These flavored products are now increasingly popular with youth. A 2013 survey of tobacco retailers in California found that 90% of convenience stores sold flavored non-cigarette tobacco products.7

Tobacco Industry Youth Prevention Efforts

The tobacco industry created youth smoking-prevention programs in the 1980s due to increasing public scrutiny. The industry's main goal, however, was not to prevent youth smoking, but rather to counter growing concerns over their marketing practices aimed at youth.

As outlined in tobacco industry documents, prevention programs were actually created to prevent further tobacco regulations, enhance the industry's public image and build key relationships with legislators, educators and other influential parties.

While the tobacco industry's prevention ads give the impression of warning against youth smoking, their carefully crafted themes actually deliver mixed messages to youth. Messages often include reminding youth that smoking is for adults and stressing the "law" as the reason not to smoke. Consider Lorillard's campaign that claims, "Tobacco is whacko...if you're a teen." In other words, smoking is okay if you're an adult.8

  • U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Preventing Tobacco Use Among Youth and Young Adults: A Report of the Surgeon General. Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Office on Smoking and Health, 2012.
  • Dube, S. et al. “Pro-Tobacco Influences and Susceptibility to Smoking Cigarettes among Middle and High School Students—United States, 2011,” Journal of Adolescent Health, 52:S45-S51, 2013.
  • Myers, M., Press Release, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, November 12, 2010.
  • Liang Y, Zheng X, Zeng DD, Zhou X, Leischow SJ, Chung W, “Exploring How the Tobacco Industry Presents and Promotes Itself in Social Media,” J Med Internet Res 2015;17(1):e24.
  • Schleicher, N, et al, “Tobacco Marketing in California’s Retail Environment (2008-2011), Final report for the California Tobacco Advertising Survey,” Stanford, CA: Stanford Prevention Center; July 2013.
  • Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, “Deadly Alliance - How Big Tobacco and Convenience Stores Partner to Market Tobacco Products and Fight Life-Saving Policies;” 2012.
  • California Department of Public Health, California Tobacco Control Program, Health Stores for a Healthy Community Survey, 2013.
  • Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, “Big Surprise: Tobacco Company Prevention Campaigns Don’t Work; 2012.

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