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State of Tobacco Control 2019

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, close to 200 kids and teens who had previously been occasional cigarette smokers become regular 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 – even flavors from popular children’s cereals. The use of flavors in cigarettes was prohibited in 2009, but flavored cigars and other tobacco products are still made and sold with candy and fruit flavorings. The federal government could do something about this, but hasn’t done anything meaningful yet.

  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

    e-cigarette ad 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 Flintstones 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 tobacco Master Settlement Agreement 46 states and the District of Columbia reached with the five largest tobacco companies in 1998.

  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 31% of high school students in the U.S. use at least one tobacco product, including e-cigarettes, according to the 2019 National Youth Tobacco Survey.
    2. 12.4% of middle school students use at least one tobacco product, including e-cigarettes, according to the 2019 National Youth Tobacco Survey.
    3. From 2017 to 2019, high school e-cigarette use increased by 135% and middle school e-cigarette use increased by close to 212% according to data from CDC's National Youth Tobacco Survey.
    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 virtually all public places and workplaces, including restaurants and bars smokefree.
    7. The District of Columbia has the highest cigarette tax in the country at $4.50 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 $1.81 per pack.
    10. One state – Connecticut – provides no state funding at all for tobacco prevention programs.
    11. Three states – Alaska, California and Maine – are funding their tobacco control programs close to CDC-recommended levels (in Fiscal Year 2020).
    12. Illinois was the only state to increase its cigarette tax by a significant amount in 2019.
    13. No state approved a comprehensive smokefree workplace law in 2019.
    14. Twelve states – California, Colorado, Connecticut, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Massachusetts, Missouri, Ohio, Oregon and South Carolina– 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 median amount states invest in quitlines is $2.14 per smoker in the state.
    16. Thirteen states passed legislation increasing its minimum sales age for tobacco products to 21 in 2019 prior to the federal Tobacco 21 law passing.
    17. Nineteen states and the District of Columbia approved Tobacco 21 laws prior to the federal Tobacco 21 law passing.
    18. Nationwide, the Medicaid program spends more than $39.6 billion in healthcare costs for smoking-related diseases each year – more than 15.2% 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. 43 states and the District of Columbia spend less than half of what the CDC recommends on their state tobacco prevention programs.
    22. States spend less than three cents of every dollar of the $27.3 billion they get from tobacco settlement payments and tobacco taxes to fight tobacco use.
    23. Each day, close to 1,600 kids under 18 try their first cigarette and close to 200 kids become new, regular smokers.
    24. Each day, close to 1,400 kids try their first cigar. On average, more than 56 kids try their first cigar every hour in the United States – equaling about 493,000 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 2018.
    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 2017 study found that states which expanded Medicaid had a 36% increase in the number of tobacco cessation medication prescriptions relative to the states that did not expand Medicaid. This means more quit attempts with proven cessation treatments are being made. 
    31. A 2019 study found patients in Medicaid expansion states that had a cessation medication ordered, had a 65% higher change of quitting.
    32. In 2019, two states, Idaho and Maine implemented Medicaid expansion, providing more smokers with access to tobacco cessation treatments.
    33. Uninsured Americans smoke at a rate more than two times higher than people with private insurance.
    34. An estimated one-third of Americans living in public housing smoke.
    35. Persons with mental health conditions make up 22% of the population, but consume close to 36% of all cigarettes in the U.S.
    36. Native Americans and Alaska Natives have the highest commercial tobacco smoking rates among any racial/ethnic group.
    37. Massachusetts became the first state to prohibit the sale of all flavored tobacco products in 2019.
    Get more facts »

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