Big Tobacco Targets

Over the last century, tobacco has evolved into a multi-billion dollar business. Tobacco companies spend an upwards of $8.2 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.

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Studies show teens are more likely to be influenced to smoke by cigarette advertising than they are by peer pressure.

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

The Big Tobacco industry works hard to hook kids early to secure their next generation of customers, since 9 of 10 adult smokers start before age 18. That’s why tobacco companies develop products and use tactics to attract children. Research shows that candy-colored packaging and fruit-flavored products overwhelmingly appeal to youth. Teens who try flavored tobacco products are 3 times more likely to smoke than those who don’t.

“It’s a well-known fact that teenagers like sweet products.”
— Tobacco Company Internal Memo

Menthol flavoring is also a big problem. Because menthol cigarettes are less harsh and marketed as a smoother alternative, menthol cigarettes are associated with increased experimentation and addiction — especially among teens. Since 2002, menthol cigarette use has doubled among Oklahoma teens. In fact, 50% of all Oklahoma teen smokers use menthol cigarettes, increasing their chances of becoming long-term daily smokers. Tobacco companies have also specifically targeted the African American community with menthol advertising and promotions for decades.

E-cigarettes and vaping represent an additional way to addict youth — and make profits. These nicotine products also come in fruit and candy flavors, increasing teens’ risk for future smoking. Learn about the facts and risks of e-cigarettes and vaping, as well as a new trend — JUULing.

Explore more ways the tobacco industry is targeting kids.

For tips on getting the conversation started, talk to your kids today about the dangers of tobacco.

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.

Menthol cigarettes are shown to be even more hazardous than other cigarettes, yet tobacco companies continue marketing these deadly products to the African-American community. As internal tobacco industry documents show, Big Tobacco prioritized profits over the health of its consumers, knowing the vulnerable would be most affected.

“We don’t smoke that s___. We just sell it. We reserve the right to smoke for the young, the poor, the black and stupid.”
– R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company Executive

Smoking rates in African-American communities remain 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 LGBTQ Community

Tobacco companies have marketed sexually ambiguous and sexually coded messages to the LGBTQ 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.

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