Big Tobacco Targets

Over the last century, tobacco has evolved into a multi-billion dollar business. Tobacco companies spend an upwards of $9.1 billion a year marketing their products. With today’s stringent tobacco marketing laws, the industry has discovered new ways to effectively push their product, including marketing to minorities. Whether it’s women, children, African Americans or a host of other minority groups, the tobacco industry has a marketing plan to suit them all.

Tobacco companies spend over $9.1 billion a year marketing their products.

Targeting Women

Starting in the 1920s, tobacco companies began tying their product to the ideas of women’s equality, freedom and body image. Cigarette advertising included slogans like “Reach for a Lucky Instead of a Sweet,” pushing cigarettes as appetite suppressants. Also, in the 1960s, tobacco companies co-opted the women’s rights movement. They embedded themselves in freedom demonstrations and even created cigarettes designed solely for women, called Virginia Slims. As a result, between 1960 and 1990, lung cancer deaths among women increased by more than 400%.

To further garner women smokers, cigarette companies developed super-slim cigarette packs designed to fit in purses. More recently, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco company introduced its Camel No. 9 cigarettes, which come in a pink package with the slogan, “Light and luscious.” Tobacco companies often promote their products with a variety of handbags, jewelry and female-centric consumer items as well.

Targeting Youth

For decades, tobacco companies have encouraged children to start smoking. One third of underage experimentation with smoking is attributable to tobacco company advertising. Find out more on how Big Tobacco targets kids here.

Targeting African Americans

In the 1960s, the tobacco company Brown and Williamson developed the Kool brand of cigarettes specifically for the African-American community. The company used darker-skinned models in its cigarette advertising, which was designed to reflect the “black experience.” Today, Kools and other menthols are still extremely popular among African Americans.

The smoking prevalence in African-American communities remains much higher than that of the general population, and quitting rates are lower. A 2007 study found that majority-black neighborhoods had 2.6 times as many cigarette ads per capita as other neighborhoods.

Targeting Service Members

During WWI, WWII, the Korean War and the Vietnam War, U.S. soldiers received free cigarettes, often as part of their rations. Soldiers who survived these conflicts were frequently left to deal with tobacco-related addiction and disease. Despite a Department of Defense ban on the practice, U.S. military personnel continued to receive free tobacco products during Middle Eastern conflicts in the 1990s and 2000s.

The Master Settlement Agreement ended all collaboration between the tobacco industry and the U.S. military. However, because of the decades of influence, a military culture of smoking still exists today. In 2005, the smoking rate of military personnel was just over 32%, much higher than the civilian rate of 21%. With that comes millions of lost dollars in direct healthcare costs and lost productivity among active duty personnel.

Targeting the LGBT Community

Tobacco companies have marketed sexually ambiguous and sexually coded messages to the LGBT community for years. They’ve donated to community events and organizations while sponsoring HIV/AIDS-related charities. The irony couldn’t be greater. Smoking weakens the immune system, making it more difficult for the body to fight AIDS-related diseases.

LGBT individuals are 40-70% more likely to smoke than non-LGBT individuals. Also, because other marketers have historically ignored the community, many LGBT individuals feel an especially strong brand loyalty to their preferred brand of cigarettes.