Tobacco Industry Marketing

Tobacco products are one of the most heavily marketed consumer products in the United States. In 2006, the latest year for which information is available, the five largest cigarette manufacturers spent a total of $12.49 billion – or over $34 million dollars a day – to promote and advertise their products.1

During 2009, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) was given strong authority to regulate tobacco products, which could have a significant affect on how tobacco products are marketed in future years. However, only North Dakota is funding its tobacco control program at the level recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in FY2010, meaning tobacco company marketing efforts are largely occurring without an effective, well-funded state tobacco control program to respond.

What do the major cigarette companies spend their advertising dollars on?

  • The largest single category of advertising expenditures in 2006 by far was price discounts paid to cigarette retailers or wholesalers to reduce the cost of cigarettes to the consumer. This category accounted for 73.7 percent ($9.21 billion) of expenditures.2
  • Retail value-added promotions, such as "buy one, get one free" and coupons for discounted cigarettes were the second and third largest expenditures respectively.3 The price of cigarettes has a very significant effect on youth smoking. Every 10 percent increase in the price of cigarettes reduces youth consumption by 7 percent.4 Therefore price discounts and retail value-added promotions can negate the impact of state cigarette tax increases.

How does tobacco product advertising affect youth smoking?

  • A study published in the May 2007 issue of the journal Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine found that retail cigarette marketing increased the likelihood that youth would start smoking; cigarette pricing strategies contributed to increases all along the smoking continuum, from initiation and experimentation to regular smoking; and cigarette promotions increased the likelihood that youth will move from experimentation to regular daily smoking.5
  • A 2002 study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine concluded that youth who were highly susceptible to tobacco advertising and believed they could quit anytime were more likely to progress from experimentation to established smoking.6
  • In its 2001 monograph "Changing Adolescent Smoking Prevalence," the National Cancer Institute reviewed the evidence behind how tobacco advertising and promotional activities affect youth smoking initiation, and concluded that the studies show the causal relationship between tobacco marketing and smoking initiation seemed unassailable.7

How do tobacco companies target diverse communities?

  • Certain tobacco products are advertised and promoted disproportionately in diverse communities. Advertising and promotion of cigarette brands with names such as Rio, Dorado and American Spirit have been marketed toward Hispanics and American Indians and Alaska Natives.8
  • African American communities have been bombarded with cigarette advertising. Since the Master Settlement Agreement (MSA) in 1998, the average youth in the United States is annually exposed to 559 tobacco ads, every adult female 617 advertisements and every African American adult 892 ads. Expenditures for magazine advertising of mentholated cigarettes, popular with African Americans, increased from 13 percent of total ad expenditures in 1998 to 49 percent in 2005.9

How do tobacco companies market their products to women?

  • Women have also been extensively targeted in tobacco marketing. Such marketing is dominated by themes of an association between social desirability, independence, weight control and smoking messages conveyed through advertisements featuring slim, attractive, and athletic models.10 Partially as a result of this targeting, an estimated 173,940 women die from smoking-caused diseases each year.11
  • As early as the 1920s, tobacco advertising geared toward women included messages such as "Reach for a Lucky instead of a sweet" to establish an association between smoking and slimness.12
  • In January 2007, R.J. Reynolds introduced a new extension of its Camel brand of cigarettes targeted at women and arguably teen girls called Camel No. 9. The cigarettes themselves came in a shiny black box with flowery hot pink or teal borders, and promotional giveaways for the product included berry lip balm, cell phone jewelry, purses and wristbands all in hot pink.13

What state and federal laws govern tobacco product advertising and promotion?

  • Eight states and the District of Columbia place some restrictions on tobacco advertising and promotion.  Furthermore, 20 states and the District of Columbia restrict or virtually prohibit where free samples of tobacco products can be distributed to the general public.14
  • In 2009, new legislation giving FDA the authority to regulate tobacco products, repealed the provisions of Federal Cigarette Labeling and Advertising Act (FCLAA) that preempted states and local governments from restricting the time, place and manner of cigarette advertising and promotion.15
  • The FCLAA also prohibits certain means of advertising concerning cigarettes, such as advertising on radio and television.16


The American Lung Association has more information available on quitting smoking and our programs to help you do so, our advocacy efforts to reduce tobacco use and exposure to secondhand smoke, and tobacco use trends on our website at, or through the Lung HelpLine at 1-800-LUNG-USA (1-800-586-4872).



1. Federal Trade Commission. Cigarette Report for 2006. Issued August 2009.
2. Ibid.
3. Ibid.
4. Tauras JA, O'Malley PM, Johnston LD. Effects of Price and Access Laws on Teenage Smoking Initiation: A National Longitudinal Analysis. ImpacTeen - YES! Research Papers. April 2001.
5. Slater, SJ, Chaloupka FJ, Wakefield M, Johnston LD, O'Malley PM. The Impact of Retail Cigarette Marketing Practices on Youth Smoking Uptake. Archives of Pediatric Adolescent Medicine. 2007 May; 161(5):440-45.
6. Choi WS, Ahluwalia JS, Harris KJ, Okuyemi K. Progression to Established Smoking, The Influence of Tobacco Marketing. American Journal of Preventitive Medicine. 2002 May; 22(4):228-33.
7. National Cancer Institute. Changing Adolescent Smoking Prevalence, Smoking and Tobacco Control Monograph No.14, NIH Pub. No. 02-5086, November 2001.
8. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Tobacco Use Among U.S. Racial/Ethnic Minority Groups—African Americans, American Indians and Alaska Natives, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, and Hispanics: A Report of the Surgeon General. 1998.
9. Connolly GN. Testimony before the Senate HELP Committee, February 27, 2007.
10. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Women and Smoking: A Report of the Surgeon General. 2001.
11. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Smoking-Attributable Mortality, Years of Potential Life Lost, and Productivity Losses – United States, 2000-2004. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. November 14, 2008; 57(45):1226-28.
12. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Women and Smoking: A Report of the Surgeon General. 2001.
13. Tobacco Free Kids. Special Report: Warning Big Tobacco Targets Women & Girls. February 18, 2009. Accessed on October 23, 2009.
14. American Lung Association. State Legislated Actions on Tobacco Issues.
15. Federal Cigarette Labeling and Advertising Act. 15 U.S. Code §§ 1331 to 1341. Accessed on October 23, 2009.
16. Ibid.