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10 Really Bad Things the Tobacco Industry Has Done to Entice Kids to Start Smoking

Tobacco companies have decades of experience marketing their products to kids and teens. From ad campaigns to product placement to cartoon characters, Big Tobacco has spent big bucks on getting kids to start smoking. Tactics are deceptive and gloss over the fact that tobacco is the leading cause of preventable death in the United States. The truth is, the tobacco industry needs kids to start smoking to make up for the adults that die from tobacco-related disease. Every day, more than 400 kids and teens who had previously been occasional cigarette smokers become daily cigarette smokers.

Take a look at some of the duplicitous schemes tobacco companies have used to hook kids into a lifetime of addiction:

  1. Candy- and Fruit-Flavored Products

    Candy- and Fruit-Flavored Products

    Vanilla, cherry, chocolate, blueberry … are these flavors for children's bubble gum or for tobacco? The use of flavors in cigarettes was prohibited in 2009, but flavored little cigars are still made and sold with candy and fruit flavorings.

  2. Celebrity Endorsements

    Celebrity Endorsements

    Famous names and well-known faces have a lot of influence and it's no surprise a kid might want to be just like his or her favorite rock star.

  3. Misleading Health Claims

    Misleading Health Claims

    The tobacco industry has promoted "low harm" versions of their products since day one. However, light, low tar or filtered cigarettes are not any less dangerous. In fact, a federal judge convicted the major tobacco companies on racketeering charges in part because they lied to the public with their health claims. The truth is that the risk of dying from smoking has increased over the last 50 years at the same time that most smokers switched to these "healthier" cigarette types.

  4. Glamorizing Smoking

    Glamorizing Smoking

    Just because it glitters doesn’t mean it's gold. This 2001 magazine ad featured a pack of menthols bedazzled in diamonds.

  5. Buy One, Get One Free

    Buy One, Get One Free

    The cost of cigarettes has a very significant effect on youth smoking. Price discounts such as buy one, get one free, are among the largest of the tobacco industry’s marketing expenditures. But even if they are practically giving them away now, the tobacco industry will recoup its money over the lifetime of kids newly addicted to their products.

  6. Ads in Popular Magazines

    Ads in Popular Magazines

    Found in the November 30, 2009 edition of Sports Illustrated

    Big Tobacco pushes their message by placing ads—big ones—in magazines and publications that are popular with kids. The more exposure adolescents and teens have to tobacco advertising, the more likely they are to start smoking.

  7. Product Placement on TV and in Movies

    Product Placement on TV and in Movies

    1962 Flinstones cartoon selling Winston's cigarettes

    Saturday morning cartoons have been the staple of American childhoods for the past half century, but Big Tobacco has muddied even this innocent memory – placing their products in cartoons, normalizing their appearance to kids.

  8. Cartoon Characters

    Cartoon Characters

    "Smooth" cartoon characters such as Joe Camel are deployed to appeal to young audiences at an impressionable age. Cartoons became so effective at addicting kids to tobacco, they were prohibited as part of the historic master settlement agreement 46 state attorneys general, the 5 territories and the District of Columbia reached with the five largest tobacco companies.

  9. In-store Promotions

    In-store Promotions

    Tobacco advertisements and promotions are on display front, center and back in convenience stores, gas stations and other retail locations frequented by youth, including some retailers with pharmacies. It’s not a coincidence that the average height of these advertisements is at the eye level of youth. The vast majority of the industry’s marketing dollars are spent in retail stores.

  10. Replacement Smokers

    Replacement Smokers

    Calling youth their "replacement smokers," tobacco companies callously and aggressively advertise to youth, because they know they are killing their current customers. An infamous quote from one tobacco industry document gives insight on how they view recruitment:

    "Younger adult smokers have been the critical factor in the growth and decline of every major brand and company over the last 50 years. They will continue to be just as important to brands/companies in the future for two simple reasons: The renewal of the market stems almost entirely from 18-year-old smokers. No more than 5 percent of smokers start after age 24. [And] the brand loyalty of 18-year-old smokers far outweighs any tendency to switch with age... Brands/companies which fail to attract their fair share of younger adult smokers face an uphill battle. They must achieve net switching gains every year to merely hold share... Younger adult smokers are the only source of replacement smokers... If younger adults turn away from smoking, the industry must decline, just as a population which does not give birth will eventually dwindle." February 29, 1984 RJR report, "Young Adult Smokers: Strategies and Opportunities". Bates No. 501928462-8550

Images courtesy of TrinketsAndTrash.org


Did You Know?

  1. More than 1 in 4 high school students in the U.S. use at least one tobacco product, including e-cigarettes, according to the 2015 National Youth Tobacco Survey.
  2. 7.4 percent of middle school students use at least one tobacco product, including e-cigarettes.
  3. A 2014 article in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that about 8 million lives have been saved through tobacco control efforts since 1964, including 800,000 lung cancer deaths between 1975 and 2000.
  4. Smoking is the number one preventable cause of death in the U.S., killing over 480,000 people per year.
  5. Secondhand smoke kills more than 41,000 people in the U.S. each year.
  6. 28 states and Washington D.C. have passed laws making almost all public places and workplaces, including restaurants and bars smokefree.
  7. New York has the highest cigarette tax in the country at $4.35 per pack.
  8. Missouri has the lowest cigarette tax in the country at 17 cents per pack.
  9. The average of all states plus the District of Columbia's cigarette taxes are $1.65 per pack.
  10. Eight states have taxes on other tobacco products equivalent to their state's cigarette taxes.
  11. Alaska and North Dakota are the only states that are funding their tobacco control programs at or above the CDC-recommended level (in Fiscal Year 2017).
  12. Four states increased their cigarette taxes in 2016.
  13. No state approved a comprehensive smokefree workplace law in 2016.
  14. 8 states – California, Connecticut, Indiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Missouri, North Dakota and Ohio – offer a comprehensive cessation benefit to tobacco users on Medicaid.
  15. Each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia provide tobacco quitlines, a phone number for quit smoking phone counseling. The average amount states invest in quitlines is $3.46 per smoker in the state.
  16. California and the District of Columbia passed legislation increasing their minimum sales ages for tobacco products to 21 in 2016.
  17. California, Hawaii and over 200 communities in 14 different states have passed Tobacco 21 laws.
  18. Nationwide, the Medicaid program spends more than $22 billion in healthcare costs for smoking-related diseases each year – more than 11 percent of total Medicaid spending.
  19. In 2009, the American Lung Association played a key role in the passage of the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, which gives the U.S. Food and Drug Administration authority over tobacco products.
  20. The American Lung Association played a key role in airplanes becoming smokefree in the 1990s.
  21. 41 states and Washington D.C. spend less than half of what the CDC recommends on their state tobacco prevention programs.
  22. States spend less than two cents of every dollar they get from tobacco settlement payments and tobacco taxes to fight tobacco use.
  23. Each day, close to 2,500 kids under 18 try their first cigarette and about 400 kids become new, regular smokers.
  24. Each day, more than 2,100 kids try their first cigar. On average, close to 90 kids try their first cigar every hour in the United States – equaling more than 780,000 every year.
  25. Smoking costs the U.S. economy over $332 billion in direct health care costs and lost productivity every year.
  26. The five largest cigarette companies spent over $23 million dollars per day marketing their products in 2014.
  27. Secondhand smoke causes $5.6 billion in lost productivity in the U.S. each year.
  28. Smoking rates are over twice as high for Medicaid recipients compared to those with private insurance.
  29. A 2013 study of California's tobacco prevention program shows that the state saved $55 in healthcare costs for every $1 invested from 1989 to 2008.
  30. A 2012 study of Massachusetts' comprehensive Medicaid quit smoking benefit found that Massachusetts saved $3 for every $1 spent helping smokers quit in just over a year.
  31. Missouri became the first state to eliminate all barriers to receiving tobacco cessation treatments for its Medicaid enrollees.
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