Are Big Tobacco Companies Still Targeting the Youth?

In 1998, the four largest tobacco companies settled a lawsuit brought against them by 46 states.


By Jordan Wright

Jordan W. (B&W)

This lawsuit was specifically designed to make the “big tobacco” companies pay for certain medical bills related to smoking, as well as limiting or eliminating certain advertising, like those directed towards the youth. Even though the major tobacco companies were forced to pay over $206 billion, and there are many new regulations in place, is big tobacco still targeting the younger, impressionable demographic?

If you read a magazine, watch television or movies, or go into any convenience store, you are sure to notice advertising for cigarettes or smokeless tobacco. As if that wasn’t bad enough, tobacco companies are using their packaging to attract a younger crowd. For instance, right now in stores across the country certain packs of Camel brand cigarettes now come with a wrapper that doubles as a filter for a camera on a smartphone. I don’t know about you, but I can’t think of any other age group who would get pleasure out of a cigarette pack camera filter more than the younger one.

The biggest point of contention centers on the word “intentional”. In the settlement, it makes clear that tobacco companies are not able to “intentionally” market to those under 18 years of age. Big tobacco will tell you they don’t intentionally market to children anymore, but the facts don’t back up their claims. According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 85 percent of youth smokers (12–17) prefer Marlboro, Newport and Camel (the three most heavily advertised brands), while only 60 percent of smokers 26 or older prefer these brands. Not only that, but a 2002 survey in a Californian community found that stores where adolescents shop most often have three times more cigarette advertisements and promotional materials outside of the stores and almost three times more materials inside compared to other stores in the community.

While some of this is conjecture, there is documented proof of big tobacco companies targeting the youth. The following are just a few of the many more internal company quotes about marketing to kids:

Philip Morris (Marlboro):

“Today’s teenager is tomorrow’s potential regular customer, and the overwhelming majority of smokers first begin to smoke while still in their teens…The smoking patterns of teenagers are particularly important to Philip Morris.”

RJ Reynolds (Camel):

“Evidence is now available to indicate that the 14-18 year old group is an increasing segment of the smoking population. RJR-T must soon establish a successful new brand in this market if our position in the industry is to be maintained in the long term.”

Brown & Williamson:

“Kool’s stake in the 16- to 25-year-old population segment is such that the value of this audience should be accurately weighted and reflected in current media programs . . . all magazines will be reviewed to see how efficiently they reach this group.”

Lorillard Tobacco:

“The base of our business is the high school student.”

U.S. Tobacco:

“Cherry Skoal is for somebody who likes the taste of candy, if you know what I’m saying.”

In her final opinion of the United States v. Philip Morris lawsuit, U.S. District Court Judge Gladys Kessler said “From the 1950s to the present, different defendants, at different times and using different methods, have intentionally marketed to young people under the age of twenty-one in order to recruit ‘replacement smokers’ to ensure the economic future of the tobacco industry… The evidence is clear and convincing—and beyond any reasonable doubt—that Defendants have marketed to young people twenty-one and under while consistently, publicly, and falsely denying they do so.”

Most of us have grown up around tobacco and tobacco advertising, so we don’t pay much attention to it. Unfortunately, these ads have a large effect on our children. The good news, according to (a website dedicated to eradicating teen smoking in the United States) is that teen smoking is at 8 percent, down from 23 percent in 2000. At the end of the day, it’s our responsibility to teach the youth about the dangers of tobacco. If we all do our part, we have the potential to abolish youth smoking, and I can’t think of anyone who thinks that would be a bad idea. Well, besides big tobacco that is.

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