Tobacco products are one of the most heavily marketed consumer products in the U.S. In 2016, the latest year for which information is available, the five largest cigarette manufacturers spent a total of $8.7 billion—or more than $23 million dollars a day—to promote and advertise their products.1 The five largest smokeless tobacco manufacturers spent $759.3 million on advertising and promotion in 2016.2
No states are funding their tobacco control programs at or above the levels currently recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), meaning that 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 2016 was price discounts paid to cigarette retailers to reduce the cost of cigarettes to the consumer. This category accounted for 66.7% ($5.8 billion) of expenditures.1 The price of cigarettes has a very significant effect on youth smoking. Every 10% increase in the price of cigarettes reduces youth consumption by 7%.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 price discounts and promotional allowances paid to cigarette wholesalers.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% 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 to specific racial or ethnic groups. 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
- 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% 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 sucessful 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 a link between smoking and slimness.11
- An analysis of previously confidential tobacco industry documents found that tobacco companies have been targeting specific sub-groups of women since at least the 1970s, including 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 more direct, 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, known as the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, 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).
Page last updated: May 31, 2023