How Tobacco Sampling Impacts Our Communities

July 2, 2021

What is sampling?

Sampling is the distribution of coupons and smokeless tobacco for free or cigarettes at a nominal cost (such as a penny), often at family events where minors are present.

How does it impact my community?

The tobacco industry sends representatives to community events to attract new users and to introduce different tobacco products.

  • 18- to 24-year-olds are specifically targeted by the tobacco industry through sampling activities.1
  • Sampling in bar environments may significantly increase awareness, experimentation and purchase of tobacco products by young adults.2
  • Those who did not smoke by age 19 and then attended tobacco industry promotional events were twice as likely to become smokers.3

Where is sampling found?

California law limits the free distribution of tobacco products to “adult environments”; this includes not only bars, but also tents or trailers in “adult restricted areas” at public venues.

  • Tobacco companies often set up sampling booths at family events inside adult-only tents where signs and banners promoting their brand and/or corporate name posted throughout the event can be seen by children.
  • At adult-only sites and events, the tobacco industry hosts lavish theme parties. It also hosts college fraternity parties featuring attractive people to distribute free smokeless tobacco or coupons. Many of the young adults that take free samples are encouraged to try the product right away.
  • In 2004 alone, there were nearly 38,000 reported tobacco brand or company promotions at bars in California.4

Why do they give away so many free samples?

Since there are restrictions on advertising, free product giveaways have become a very successful marketing activity to hook new users without the notice of the greater population.

  • While there are federal and state laws against tobacco sampling and sponsorship, tobacco companies continue to find and exploit loopholes to their advantage.
  • After the Master Settlement Agreement (MSA) in 1998 banned tobacco promotions through standard advertising practices, tobacco companies set their sights on the vulnerable young adult population and substantially increased marketing aimed at college students by sponsoring college bar events and fraternity parties.
  • In 2006, the tobacco industry spent $819 million on marketing in California alone, despite restrictions limiting their ability to advertise.5

Event Sponsorships

Tobacco companies are able to sponsor local and national events under their corporate names. However, due to U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) tobacco advertising regulations that went into effect in July 2010, all tobacco brand-name sponsorships are banned. To learn more about what the FDA is doing to regulate tobacco, including laws regarding sampling and sponsorship, click here.

Many tobacco sponsored events have involved spectator sports and activities popular with families, such as rodeos, fairs, festivals and racing – thus exposing children to heavy amounts of tobacco company logos.

Sports sponsorships influence kids to smoke. The Cancer Research Campaign found that boys are twice as likely to become regular smokers if they are racing fans.6

In addition, many of these sponsored events were televised, giving the tobacco company billboards and logos television airtime.

In 1999, a year after the MSA ban, racing sponsorships gave the tobacco companies TV exposure worth more than $122 million, along with millions more in radio, magazine and newspaper exposure.7

In 2007, the City of Chico fought back against tobacco industry sampling and sponsorship at Chico State University and passed a local ordinance that bans the free distribution of all tobacco products and coupons.

Thumbs up for Michael Schumacher (left)and Eddie Irvine for their performance at a Grand Prix championship, but thumbs down by WHO for Big Tobacco sponsorship of this and other sports.

References renameme

  1. Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, Tobacco Company Marketing to College Students Since the MSA was Signed. Washington, DC: 2001.
  2. Bogen, K, Bierner, L, and Nyman, A, "Consequences of Marketing Exceptions in the MSA: Exposure of Youth to Adult-Only Tobacco Promotions," Nicotine and Tobacco Research, 8(3): 467-471, 2006.
  3. Rigott, N, Moran, S, and Wechsler, H, "U.S. College Students Exposure to Tobacco Promotions: Prevalence and Association with Tobacco Use," American Journal of Public Health, 94(12); 1-7, 2004.
  4. Cruz, T, Schuster, D, and Andreeva-Cook, V, The Evolution of Tobacco Industry-Sponsored Adult-Only Facilities in California: A Case Study. Alhambra, California: University of Southern California, 2008.
  5. U.S. Federal Trade Commission, Cigarette Report for 2006, 2009.
  6. Charlton, A, While, D, Kelly, S, Boys' smoking and cigarette-brand-sponsored motor racing. CRC Education and Child Studies Research Group, School of Epidemiology and Health Sciences, University of Manchester. 1997.
  7. Julius, J, Sponsors Report, Washington, DC: Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, 2000.