Truth Campaign Targets Teen Smoking

In 2008, the five largest tobacco companies spent $9.94 billion dollars – or more than $27 million dollars per day—advertising and marketing their products. That same year, the five largest smokeless tobacco manufacturers spent $547.9 million dollars on advertising, promotions and discounts.

Marketing consultant and author Al Ries says, “If RJR didn’t target young people, it would be out of business.”

In a memo dated August 2, 1973, RJR’s Claude E. Teague said, “Realistically, if our company is to survive and prosper, over the long term, we must get our share of the youth market. In my opinion, this will require new brands tailored to the youth market. I believe it unrealistic to expect that existing brands identified with an over-thirty “establishment” market can ever become the “in” products with the youth group.”

His memo proceeded to analyze the youth market and recommended ways to exploit “pre-smokers.” In 1984, RJR concluded in a secret report that it needed to pitch its cigarettes to young adults to “replace” other smokers, according to court papers filed in Minnesota’s lawsuit against the tobacco industry. The marketing report cited federal information that showed smokers begin as early as 12 and rarely begin after they turn 25 years old. Based on these facts, the report suggested the company aggressively market to younger people.

“Younger adult smokers are critical to RJR’s long-term performance and profitability. Therefore, RJR should make a substantial long-term commitment of manpower and money dedicated to younger adult smoker programs,” the report said. “If younger adults turn away from smoking, the industry must decline, just as a population that does not give birth will eventually dwindle,” said the 77-page report filed by the company as part of the discovery process in Minnesota’s lawsuit. “It is an extremely damning document,” said Richard Daynard of the Tobacco Products Liability Project at Northeastern University in Boston. “It’s no accident that the report came from RJR just before the launch of their Joe Camel advertising campaign, which was their first successful foray into the young adult (children’s) market.”

tobacco prevention and cessation campaign

Other tobacco company documents offer similar revelations:

  • “Today’s teenager is tomorrow’s potential regular customer.” (Philip Morris)
  • “…the base of our business is the high school student.” (Lorillard Tobacco)
  • “Cherry Skoal is for somebody who likes the taste of candy, if you know what I am saying.” (U.S. Tobacco)

In one poll of adult smokers 30-39 years of age, 89 percent first tried smoking, and 71 percent became daily smokers, before the age of 18. About ninety percent of smokers began before the age of 20. The mean age at first use was 14.6 and the mean age of becoming a daily smoker was 17.7 years old.

As a result, tobacco use has been labeled a pediatric onset disease. About 10 percent of current adult smokers began when they were between nine and 10 years old. The younger smokers are when they start their habit, the heavier they smoke as adults. Tobacco companies even studied hyperactive third-graders to see if they were more likely than other youth to become smokers. Who knows how many children and population segments tobacco companies have studied for effective financial exploitation.

The tobacco companies are winning, since 25 percent of all high school students smoke. According to one study, about 20 percent of eighth-graders have smoked in the past 30 days. By comparison, one in four 12th-graders and one in five 10th-graders reported using an illicit drug in the past 30 days.

About 80,000 people around the globe start smoking every day—3,000 kids in the U.S. Like all smokers, they quickly proceed to suffer from shortness of breath, coughing, nausea, dizziness and phlegm production. Of the 3,000 American kids who begin smoking every day, 1,000 will die a tobacco-related death. The average age of onset for tobacco addiction is 14 years old.

Because of the death rate, tobacco companies spend billions of dollars on advertising and promotions to replace two million lost customers each year. As a result, almost three million people try cigarettes for the first time each year and one million new youth follow the pack of regular smokers.

Every day in the U.S. alone, more than 6,000 children under the age of 18 try cigarettes for the first time. The younger they are when they experiment with cigarettes, the more likely they will become addicted and the less likely they will quit.

teen smoking campaign

More than a third of all students who try cigarettes will be regular, daily smokers before leaving high school. Approximately 23 million American children and teens under the age of 18 smoke 947 million packs of cigarettes each year. These sales generate millions in corporate profits and millions in tax dollars and savings to governments, yet big tobacco and government officials claim to be fighting youth smoking.

Research has shown that teenagers are three times more likely to respond to cigarette ads than adults. According to tobacco company documents, the ads are the “psychological support” youngsters need to justify starting their tobacco habits. Further research has shown that about 80-85 percent of teen smokers puff brands sold by the three largest advertisers (Marlboro, Camel and Newport).

A 1999 study by the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids found that 75 percent of youth recall seeing tobacco advertising in the two weeks prior to the survey, compared to only 31 percent of adults. About 69 percent recall seeing ads for Marlboros, 36 percent recall Camel, and 18 percent recall Newport ads. Only 51 percent of adults recalled seeing ads for Marlboro during the same period, 21 percent recall ads for Camels and 11 percent recall Newport ads.

In 1994, the student-oriented publication Weekly Reader was used for tobacco propaganda. That year it ran an article titled, “Do Cigarettes Have a Future?” It discussed the issue of smokers’ rights and the harm the industry suffered from taxes and smoking restrictions. The article featured a photograph of a Camel ad that filled half of one page. The article mentioned nothing about smoking as a cause of heart disease and lung cancer. RJR’s largest shareholder owned the newsletter.

Even Marvel Comics employed characters who smoked in its comic books and trading cards, but ceased after 7-year-old Sammy Blum wrote a letter to the New England Journal of Medicine. “I collect Marvel Masterpieces,” he said. “So do some of my friends and brothers. I have found five out of 100 cards that were smoking. Why are they smoking?”

Another tactic employed candy to introduce children to smoking. Tobacco documents released in 1998 confirmed that tobacco companies cooperated with the makers of candy cigarettes in designing snacks that promoted smoking to children. Some tobacco companies tolerated trademark infringement and granted confectioners permission to sell candy that used cigarette pack designs. Another tactic is to actually get children to experiment with the real thing.

In 1996, four percent of youth admitted stealing cigarettes. An undercover investigation in Colorado found that cigarette manufacturers are “slotting” tobacco displays at convenience stores and other stores, where they pay retailers for prime display positions within the store to encourage theft by teens, which helps get them hooked on nicotine. The slotting fee paid to the retailer far exceeds the cost of these thefts, so they can afford to take the loss. The cost of the slotting fee is a cheap way to hook a new lifetime customer.

Between the profits, the payoffs and the addictive additives, the odds are stacked against young smokers. About 50 percent of high school seniors who smoke want to quit. Forty percent of teenagers who smoke daily have tried to quit.

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