While the tobacco industry claims they no longer target kids, they still use tactics to attract kids to use their products. They use enticing flavors, colorful packaging, and names and logos similar to popular types of candy11. And many of these products are often placed in kid-friendly locations in convenience stores, often near candy12, and sold at kid-friendly prices. The tobacco industry also promotes their products on social media, and advertises in magazines and direct mail. The tobacco industry even has their own “youth prevention” campaigns, not to help keep kids from smoking, but as a public relations ploy to make themselves look good and stop laws and policies restricting their predatory marketing practices.
Flavored Tobacco Products
Who even likes strawberry flavored cigars? Kids, that’s who.
A new report released by the California Medical Association (CMA) finds that youth are attracted to sweet flavors and, with the help of targeted marketing, are more likely to try and continue using a tobacco product that is flavored. This paper comes to the same cautionary conclusion as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the U.S. Surgeon General have in the past: tobacco flavors like chocolate, strawberry, and bubble gum help mask the harshness of tobacco and lure our kids who have never used tobacco products before into a lifetime of addiction.
70% of US middle and high school tobacco users have used at least 1 flavored tobacco product in the past 30 days.10
But this is not news: in 2009, the FDA banned the use of flavors in traditional cigarettes on the basis that flavors are especially appealing to youth and that a ban on these products would help to reduce the number of youth who start smoking. However, menthol and other tobacco products like cigars, hookah tobacco, smokeless tobacco, or e-cigarettes were excluded from this ban and are still allowed to be sold in flavored varieties. Flavors, including menthol, help to mask the naturally harsh
taste of tobacco and make it easier for youth and new users to initiate and sustain tobacco use13. In fact, certain flavors in tobacco use the exact same flavoring chemicals as candies like Zots and Jolly Ranchers, meaning that these products literally taste and smell like candy!4 Kids love candy, but how do we know that kids like flavored tobacco products? We know because the use of cigarettes among youth has declined over the past few years while flavored e-cigarette and hookah use has increased among youth.18 And if you still don’t believe these flavors are attracting kids, just ask them: this is exactly what a recent study did and found that more than two-thirds of youth report using tobacco products because “they come in flavors I like.”
While the FDA decides on its next steps regarding flavored tobacco products, the good news is that local jurisdictions in California have the power to restrict or even prohibit the sale of flavored tobacco products. We know that as long as tobacco products are allowed to be flavored, they will continue to entice our kids to become the next generation of tobacco addicts.
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. According to the Federal Trade Commission, in 2014, tobacco companies spent $9.1 billion at the point of purchase, retail stores, accounting for over 95% of total marketing dollars spent.6
The tobacco industry knows convenience stores are where kids shop and they heavily market to them in these locations. In a 2014 survey of tobacco retail outlets in California found that about one-third of stores (32.6%) had at least one tobacco ad at young kids’ eye level (three feet or lower), and 40% of stores near schools actually put tobacco products near candy at the checkout.
Price Discounting and Pack Size
Price discounting has become the tobacco industry’s leading method of attracting users, and accounts for the largest percentage of industry’s marketing spend. Price discounts disproportionately affect vulnerable populations including young people, racial/ethnic minorities, and persons with low incomes, as these groups are more likely to purchase tobacco products through a discount15 16. The tobacco industry continues to promote little cigars, which are comparable to cigarettes with regard to shape, size, and packaging, at a lower cost to cigarettes14. In addition, while cigarettes must be sold in packs of 20, other tobacco products, like little cigars, can be purchased in quantities of one or two at a time, often for less than a dollar12.
Social Media & Internet Marketing
Tobacco companies extensively use the Internet and social media to market their products, and in 2011, 40% of adolescents were exposed to pro-tobacco images on the Internet.2 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 parents.
Many tobacco companies sell their products online, particularly e-cigarettes. In a recent study, kids are successful in buying e-cigs online 94% of the time9.
Tobacco companies also use social media to aggressively market their products, sponsoring social media celebrities to endorse their products, reaching many kids through their SnapChat, Instagram, and YouTube feeds. Kids will even swap videos on how to use tobacco products, such as e-cigarettes and hookahs.
In 1998, the tobacco industry signed the Master Settlement Agreement, vowing to stop targeting youth. However, in 2011, 48% of middle school and 54% of high school students reported seeing tobacco ads in magazines.
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 RJ Reynold’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
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.
“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
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.