Statistics on smoking released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show Big Tobacco relentlessly pursuing almost every facet of society to get consumers to light up. The cigarette industry targets children, women, ethnic groups and minorities with marketing strategies that still seem to work. Today, one out of five U.S. adults smokes.
While that number has declined in recent years, it reveals a troubling truth: over 46.6 percent of the population has not kicked this addiction.
“Each year, an estimated 443,000 people die prematurely from diseases caused by smoking or second-hand smoke exposure,” CDC director Dr. Thomas Frieden wrote in a 2011 letter. “Coupled with this enormous health toll is the significant economic burden of tobacco use, which is responsible for about $100 billion per year in medical expenditures and another $100 billion per year in lost productivity.”
That year, the agency launched its Winnable Battles campaign on tobacco. The goals of the campaign include offering help to quit, warning about the dangers of smoking, preventing injuries and deaths because of second-hand smoke exposure and raising taxes on tobacco products – in addition to enforcing bans on marketing.
Big Tobacco spent $9.5 billion on marketing in 2013, the latest year for which figures are available. Of those dollars, close to $9 billion of them were spent on cigarettes, while a little more than $500 million was spent on smokeless tobacco. According to the CDC, the money amounted to a budget of $30 per person per year. Smokers got more attention, as their budget amounted to $228 per person per year.
The industry also pays attention to specific populations. Regarding children and young adults, the CDC found “advertising and promotion influences young people to start using tobacco.”
“Tobacco ads make smoking appear to be appealing, which can increase adolescents’ desire to smoke,” an agency fact sheet states.
Regarding women, the CDC pointed to brands of cigarettes developed with a feminine flair.
“Marketing toward women is dominated by themes of social desirability and independence, which are conveyed by advertisements featuring slim, attractive, and athletic models,” according to the fact sheet.
Ethnic groups and minorities have their own sets of strategies associated with them. Santa Fe Natural Tobacco Company created the American Spirit brand in part to lure Native-Americans and Alaskans. Menthol brands are used by many African-Americans.
In 2004, R.J. Reynolds launched a marketing campaign to target Asian-Americans via a new brand of Camels called Kauai Kolada. Advertisements appeared in People, Sports Illustrated and Time magazines with a hula girl in a grass skirt posing atop an image of two colorful packs of coconut-flavored cigarettes. It created an outrage in Hawaii, causing the mayor of Kauai to call the campaign insulting to his culture.
A leopard doesn’t change its spots. It seems Big Tobacco will stop at nothing.