Did You Know?
"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, Internet web sites and social media networks.

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 launched their version of youth prevention programs in an attempt to deflect public concern for youth smoking.

What impact does all this have? Of all adult smokers nationwide, 90 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 1999, Marlboro, Camel and Newport increased their advertising in youth-oriented magazines.1 Ads for these three brands were seen by over 80 percent of youth an average of 17 times a year.

In 2002, R.J. Reynolds (RJR) was charged and fined $20 million for continuing to market in magazines with high numbers of young readers. Though found guilty, RJR brands like Camel and Salem can still be seen in many of the same magazines. And it doesn't end there. In 2003, Philip Morris, RJR, Brown & Williamson and U.S. Smokeless Tobacco were caught running ads in school editions (for students to read) of Time, Newsweek and U.S. News & World Report.

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 increasingly rely on 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.

Internet Marketing

Tobacco companies are turning more and more to the Internet to market their products. 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 viewer. This is particularly true of interactive forms of digital media such as search engines and social networking sites.

Convenience Stores

You might not be aware of all the tobacco ads throughout your local stores - look again at what your children see. Walk into your local convenience store and look at the placement of tobacco ads. Many are hung at a kid's eye level on doors, counters and below the register. A 2001 study found that nearly 23 percent of the stores monitored had cigarettes placed within six inches of candy. 2

Convenience stores are effective places for reaching youth. Almost 90 percent of teens shop at convenience stores at least once a month. In 2001, just three years after the Master Settlement Agreement, which prohibited marketing to kids, the tobacco industry increased their marketing budget by 66 percent to $11.2 billion. In-store promotions accounted for most of the spending increase. 2 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. 3

Tobacco products have also included candy flavors like coconut-pineapple, lime, mint, berry and toffee. Fortunately, candy-flavored cigarettes were banned in 2009 by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. In addition, new smokeless tobacco options were introduced that looked like candy, but were pulled from test markets after tobacco companies received wide criticism that the products were geared for youth experimentation.

Tobacco Industry Youth Prevention Efforts

With increasing public scrutiny and the threat of future tobacco regulations, the tobacco industry introduced youth smoking-prevention programs in the 1980s. 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.

The tobacco industry's prevention ads remind youth, who want to look older than they really are, that smoking is an adult behavior — the very behavior the tobacco industry's own research proved was a leading motivator for youth to start smoking.

Philip Morris's prevention ad tells youth to "Think. Don't Smoke." In this example, basic reverse psychology explains that when you tell youth not to do something, they are going to want to do it. Sure enough, an independent research study found that the ads actually increased teens' intentions to smoke. 4 Using "the law" as the reason not to smoke reinforces the forbidden nature of smoking, further increasing its appeal to rebellious youth.

  • Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, National Household Survey on Drug Use and Health, Rockville, MD: Health and Human Services, 2007.
  • Feighery, E, Ribisl, K, Schleicher, N, Lee, R, Halvorson, S, "Cigarette Advertising and Promotional Strategies in Retail Outlets: Results of a Statewide Survey in California," Tobacco Control 2001;10:184-188.
  • Wakefield, M, Germain, D, Durkin, S, Henriksen, L, "An Experimental Study of Effects on Schoolchildren of Exposure to Point-of-Sale Cigarette Advertising and Pack Displays," Health Education Research 2006 Jun;21(3):338-47. Epub 2006 May 15.
  • Novelli, W, "Don't smoke, buy Marlboro," British Medical Journal 1999 May 8; 318(7193): 1296.