Big Tobacco Targets Our Kids
How can Big Tobacco attract lifelong customers? It’s simple: hook them young. Big Tobacco knows that 9 out of 10 adult smokers started before the age of 21. By targeting our youth, they secure a new generation of highly addicted customers.
Let’s explore a few key aspects of Big Tobacco’s youth targeting. Despite new restrictions and regulatory efforts, many of these methods are still in practice.
Big Tobacco needs to attract kids, but they’re legally barred from marketing to children. For inspiration, they turned to the candy industry. They borrowed the established formula of candy and sugar-heavy cereal brands. Child-friendly tobacco and vape brands mix bright colors, crazy names and wacky packaging to capture children’s imaginations. But kids don’t like how bitter nicotine tastes. That’s where flavors come into play.
Kids who try flavored tobacco products are 3 times more likely to smoke than those who don’t. Vapes are the perfect vehicle for flavors — and they get wilder by the day. Cinnamon Danish, Smurfette and Tiger’s Blood are just a few of thousands on the market.
While the FDA implemented a ban on flavors in February 2020, they left some serious loopholes — most notably in the disposable vape category. These vapes come pre-loaded with flavors and are ready to puff straight out of the box. This loophole paves the way for the continued targeting of our kids. Some disposables contain more nicotine than the rechargeable vape options on the market, making them even more addictive.
Menthol is another big problem. This flavor is marketed as a smooth alternative to regular cigarettes, and teens have caught on. In Oklahoma, 50% of teen smokers regularly use menthol cigarettes, increasing their chances of becoming lifelong daily smokers. In addition to menthol, tobacco companies sell flavored cigarillos and cigars just cheap enough for kids to afford. To this day, most convenience stores stock flavored cigarillos at around $1 each. This lowers the barrier to entry for kids to experience nicotine without the harshness of nicotine flavor.
With bright colors and wacky names mimicking candy packaging, the competition to stand out on store shelves is stiff. Wild flavors such as Melon Head and Key Lime Pie also get kids talking — and kids swap recommendations on which flavors to try next. Big Tobacco’s master plan is clear: Use flavors to spark an epidemic of youth vaping.
There’s one more aspect to youth targeting: package design. That’s right, many vaping products look just like juice boxes — and it is 100% intentional. Their deception through design doesn’t stop there. Many vapes look like sleek thumb drives, easily disguised in a pile of school supplies.
With 1 in 4 Oklahoma teens reporting vaping in the past month, we’re still in the midst of a vaping epidemic. The dangers of this epidemic cannot be understated. Teenage brains are not fully developed. Exposure to nicotine at a young age disrupts development and can lead to addictive behaviors later in life — just as Big Tobacco planned.
Knowing the Target
Big Tobacco’s targeting of our youth is a comprehensive effort to addict their developing brains, keeping them hooked on nicotine for life. Gaining a better understanding of how they target our kids is critical.
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