Tobacco Industry Marketing | American Lung Association

Location Select your location

Tobacco Industry Marketing

Tobacco products are one of the most heavily marketed consumer products in the U.S. In 2014, the latest year for which information is available, the five largest cigarette manufacturers spent a total of $8.489 billion—or more than $23 million dollars a day—to promote and advertise their products.1 The five largest smokeless tobacco manufacturers spent $600.8 million on advertising and promotion in 2014.2

Only Alaska and North Dakota are funding their tobacco control programs at levels currently recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), meaning tobacco company marketing efforts are largely occurring without effective, well-funded state tobacco control programs to respond.

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

  • The largest single category of marketing and promotional expenditures in 2014 by far was price discounts paid to cigarette retailers or wholesalers to reduce the cost of cigarettes to the consumer. This category accounted for 79.7 percent ($6.8 billion) of expenditures.1 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.3 Price discounts and retail value-added promotions can negate the impact of state cigarette tax increases.
  • The second and third largest expenditure categories were promotional allowances paid to cigarette wholesalers and retailers and coupons.1

How does tobacco product advertising affect youth smoking?

  • The 2012 Surgeon General's report on preventing tobacco use among youth concluded that there is a causal relationship between tobacco industry advertising and promotional efforts, and the initiation and progression of tobacco use among young people.4
  • A 2010 study found that youth who reported having a favorite tobacco ad at the start of the study in 2003 were 50 percent more likely to have smoked five years later in 2008. After the start of the R.J. Reynolds “Camel No. 9” advertising campaign in 2007, the proportion of girls with a favorite ad increased by 10 percentage points.5
  • A 2007 study 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 would move from experimentation to regular daily smoking.6

How do tobacco companies target priority populations?

  • Certain tobacco products are advertised and promoted disproportionately in diverse communities. For example, advertising and promotion of cigarette brands with names such as Rio, Dorado and American Spirit have been marketed toward Hispanics, American Indians and Alaska Natives.7 Communities like these that have been targeted by the tobacco industry are sometimes called priority populations.
  • Advertising for tobacco products historically has been more prevalent in African-American communities. An analysis of available studies to date in 2007, found that the odds that any given billboard/outdoor signage advertisement was smoking-related were 70 percent higher in predominantly African-American neighborhoods than in predominantly white neighborhoods, and there were 2.6 times as many tobacco advertisements per person in African-American areas.8
  • The tobacco industry was one of the first to develop marketing materials specifically targeting the LGBT community. The most infamous example of this was so-called Project SCUM (for “Subculture Urban Marketing”), a plan by RJ Reynolds in the mid-1990s to market their Red Kamel brand to gay men in San Francisco's Castro District and homeless people in the city's Tenderloin neighborhood.9
  • Ads for smokeless tobacco frequently depict rugged “manly” images of cowboys, hunters and race car drivers that are carefully placed in the media and retail outlets most likely to reach rural audiences. It seems to work well; a 2012 study of boys and men in Appalachian Ohio found that the participants viewed smokeless tobacco use as a rite of passage in the development of their masculine identity, and a key to acceptance into male social networks.10

How do tobacco companies market their products to women?

  • Women also have been extensively targeted by 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.11 As a result of this targeting, disease risks from smoking have risen dramatically for women over the past 50 years, and are now equal to those for men for lung cancer.12
  • 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.11
  • An analysis of previously confidential tobacco industry documents found that tobacco companies have been targeting women of low socio-economic status since at least the 1970s, including specific sub-groups of women such as military wives, inner-city minority women and older discount-sensitive women. Tactics included offering discounts by mail and at the point of sale, and using literal language in advertising and marketing materials. These tactics are or could be still in use today.13

What federal laws govern tobacco product advertising and promotion? 

  • In 2010, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a final rule that placed several restrictions on marketing and promotion of cigarettes and smokeless tobacco, including prohibiting brand name sponsorship of athletic, musical, or other social or cultural events and prohibiting the sale or distribution of certain items with cigarette and smokeless tobacco brands or logos.14
  • The 2009 legislation giving the FDA the authority to regulate tobacco products also removed part of the Federal Cigarette Labeling and Advertising Act (FCLAA) that had 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.15

Learn about the American Lung Association’s programs to help you or a loved one quit smoking, and join our advocacy efforts to reduce tobacco use and exposure to secondhand smoke. Call the Lung HelpLine at 1-800-LUNGUSA (1-800-586-4872).

  • Sources
    1. Federal Trade Commission. Cigarette Report for 2014. Issued November 2016.
    2. Federal Trade Commission. Smokeless Tobacco Report for 2014. Issued November 2016.
    3. 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.
    4. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Preventing Tobacco Use among Youth and Young Adults: A Report of the Surgeon General, 2012.
    5. Pierce JP, Messer K, James LE, White MM, Kealey S, Vallone DM, Healton CG. Camel No. 9 Cigarette Marketing Campaign Targeted Young Teenage Girls. Pediatrics 2010; 125(4):619-26.
    6. 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. May 2007; 161(5):440-45.
    7. 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.
    8. Primack BA, Bost JE, Land SR, Fine MJ. Volume of Tobacco Advertising in African American Markets: Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Public Health Rep. Sep-Oct 2007; 122(5):607-615.
    9. Stevens P, et al. An Analysis of Tobacco Industry Marketing to Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) Populations: Strategies for Mainstream Tobacco Control and Prevention. Health Promotion Practice. 2004; Supplement to Vol. 5(3).
    10. Nemeth JM, Liu ST, Ferketich AK, Kwan MP, Wewers ME. Factors Influencing Smokeless Tobacco Use in Rural Ohio Appalachia. Journal of Community Health. Dec 2012; 37(6):1208-17.
    11. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Women and Smoking: A Report of the Surgeon General, 2001.
    12. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The Health Consequences of Smoking—50 Years of Progress: A Report of the Surgeon General , 2014.
    13. Brown-Johnson CB, England LJ, Glantz SA, Ling PM. Tobacco industry marketing to low socioeconomic status women in the USA. Tob Control 2014;23:e139-e146
    14. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Regulations Restricting the Sale and Distribution of Cigarettes and Smokeless Tobacco to Protect Children and Adolescents. June 22, 2010.
    15. Federal Cigarette Labeling and Advertising Act. 15 U.S. Code §§ 1331 to 1341.

    Ask An Expert

    Questions about your lung health? Need help finding healthcare? Call 1-800-LUNGUSA.

    Get help
    We need your generous support

    Make a difference by delivering research, education and advocacy to those impacted by lung disease.

    What is LUNG FORCE?

    LUNG FORCE unites women and their loved ones across the country to stand together in the fight against lung cancer.

    Get involved
    Join the fight for healthy lungs and healthy air.
    Donate Now.