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Marketing tobacco to children.

It's an enduring, solemn claim of the global tobacco industry that it spends billions of dollars annually on advertising and promotion solely to persuade smokers to switch brands and to retain brand loyalty. Never, the industry would have you believe, does it seek to tempt nonsmokers, least of all children under 18, to take up the habit.

With almost no one noticing, however, that claim was devastated at the trial of a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of Canada's Tobacco Products Control Act of 1988, which severely restricted cigarette advertising and promotion. The plaintiffs were Imperial Tobacco Ltd., owned by the giant British American Tobacco Company (BAT also owns Brown & Williamson Tobacco Company in the United States), and RJR-Macdonald Inc., owned by RJR Nabisco, the U.S. conglomerate. Judge Jean-Jude Chabot of Quebec Superior Court in Montreal presided at the nine-month trial, which began in September 1989. His ruling is still awaited.

In defending the act, the government put in evidence internal corporate documents that describe with stunning candor how the industry deliberately hooks children and markets to them. Imperial had generated the most revealing of these documents, which have gone almost wholly unpublicized, even in Canada.

Let's begin with Imperial's 1971 marketing plan for the Matinee brand. "Young smokers represent the major opportunity group for the cigarette industry," the plan stated. "We should therefore determine their attitude to smoking and health and how this might change over time." It was an opportunity Imperial seized. For example, the "Fiscal '80 Media Plans " for its Player's Filter brand divided one "target group:' French-speaking men, into three age brackets. The first was 12 to 17. Twelve-year-old men? For Player's Light, the target group began with English-speaking men and women, ages 12 to 24, and French-speaking men and women from 12 to 17; for the du Maurier brand, the single target group was "Men & Women/12-34:' Twelve-year-old women?

The documents seem to make it nearly impossible for Imperial to deny that it targeted children. But for a cigarette manufacturer to admit doing that would be nearly inconceivable--just imagine the consequences. Imperial's vice president of marketing, Donald Brown, was questioned by Imperial lawyer Simon Potter a week into the trial.

"Have you ever marketed your cigarettes or addressed your advertising to 12-year-olds?" Potter asked.

"No, we have not," Brown testified.

"To 13-year-olds?"


"To 14-year-olds?"


"To 15-year-olds?"


The " Player's Filter '81 Creative Guidelines " for advertisements said, "The activity shown should be one which is practiced by young people sixteen to twenty years old, or one that those people can reasonably aspire to in the near future." Note that the Imperial lawyer didn't question Brown about marketing to 16- and 17-year-olds.

Some of the cigarette company documents concerned two Imperial research projects, dubbed Huron and Erie, which in the early 1980s investigated the feasibility of mixing Canadian and American tobaccos for what became Player's Special Blend and Player's Special Blend Light. A Project Huron document reviewed for the government by Richard Pollay, an expert on cigarette advertising at the University of British Columbia, identified the target market bluntly enough: "principally young males 15-25."

Imperial's "Project 16" was an in-depth study of 16- and 17-year-olds to find out why they start to smoke and how they feel about being smokers. It was conducted in the fall of 1977 at hotels with, the study said, "closed circuit observation facilities in use for observers from Imperial Tobacco, McKim Advertising Limited, and Spitzer Mills and Bates [Imperial's ad agencies]."

"Serious efforts to learn to smoke occur between ages 12 and 13 in most cases:' Project 16 found. "The adolescent seeks to display his new urge for independence with a symbol, and cigarettes are such a symbol.... However intriguing smoking was at 11, 12 or 13, by the age of 16 or 17 many regretted their use of cigarettes for health reasons and because they felt unable to stop smoking when they want to." In his analysis of this study, Pollay wrote, "Neither teachers nor health warnings inhibited" youngsters from starting to smoke. They perceived the health warning on cigarette packs "as an intrusion and sham."

While Project 16 was under way, Imperial was considering an obviously youth-oriented recommendation for advertising and promotion of one of its brands. A combination of TV guides, Sports/Youth Publications, Posters and Beetleboards will be utilized to support Player's Filter in 1977/78," the recommendation said. "It is judged that these vehicles offer a more youthful approach to reach the younger smokers."

A later study done for Imperial, Project Plus/Minus, concluded that young starting smokers "no longer disbelieve the dangers of smoking, but they almost universally assume these risks will not apply to themselves because they will not become addicted. Once addiction does take place, it becomes necessary for the smoker to make peace with the accepted hazards.... The desire to quit seems to come earlier now than before, even prior to the end of high school.... However, the desire to quit, and actually carrying it out, are two quite different things, as the would-be quitter soon learns."

"If the last ten years have taught us anything," Imperial

stated in its marketing plan for fiscal 1988, which is marked "Personal and Confidential" on every page, "it is that the industry is dominated by the companies who respond most effectively to the needs of younger smokers." [Emphasis in original.]

Imperial learned this lesson well. The proof is its "Continual Market Assessment"' an extremely large survey of smoking attitudes and practices that covered more than 211,000 Canadians and that was conducted continuously over a thirteen-year period. Analyzing the results for the government, Dr. Jeffrey Harris, a physician and health economist who teaches at Harvard Medical School and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, reported: "The CMA data indicate that successive cohorts of young, predominantly teenage cigarette smokers have been attracted to the Player's and du Maurier brand names. Imperial's rising dominance of the Canadian cigarette market over the last two decades can be attributed entirely to its rising shares among these new smokers, who are now aged 15-34 years." And, he said, "the best available explanation for Imperial Tobacco's recent success in the young smoker's market is its long-standing sponsorship of sports events:' It's good news that last month Dr. Louis Sullivan, the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services, urged tobacco companies to end their sponsorship of sporting events and also urged citizens to boycott sports events sponsored by the industry.

The Canadian story is pretty much the global story: Preadolescents and adolescents everywhere are essential industry fodder. They must replace the estimated 3 million adults throughout the world who will die of cigarette-caused diseases each year in the 1990s, and they must replace the smokers who quit. Evidence introduced in the Montreal trial showed that 41 percent of current smokers had made at least one unsuccessful attempt to quit, and about 8 percent of the would-be quitters succeeded. Such figures reveal the inescapable economic imperative of the cigarette industry: To replace the quitters, and to reinforce the habit and its social acceptability among present smokers, it must try to recruit nonsmokers, including children.

For U.S. tobacco companies, the youth market is a significant, albeit small, share of the total. In 1988 alone, American children under 18 spent $1.26 billion for a billion packs of cigarettes and 26 million containers of smokeless tobacco (snuff). The profit for manufacturers was $221 million. Those careful estimates were reported in May 1990 by Dr. Joseph DiFranza, a director of an aggressive nonprofit organization based in Springfield, Massachusetts, called Stop Teenage Addiction to Tobacco, and Joe Tye, president of STAT, in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

DiFranza and Tye calculated that more than 3 million youngsters are daily smokers, and that nearly 3 million more are "experimenters at high risk of becoming addicted." Every year, approximately 2 million American minors start to smoke. Their average age is 13. Of those aged 13 to 17, a December 1988 government survey showed, 13 percent were regular smokers-up three points over the previous year.

By the mid-1990s, the percentage of women who smoke is expected to exceed that of men who smoke. The explanation is not only that more girls than boys have taken up the habit in the past decade but also that fewer girls quit, says Dr. Michele Bloch of the Advocacy Institute, a leading foe of the industry. "The targeting of girls and women is made easier by the fact that smoking artificially and temporarily holds down body weight"' Bloch told me. "Societal pressure for girls and women to be slender is intense. Weight control is one of the most important reasons girls start smoking, and one of the biggest barriers preventing them from quitting. Given adolescents' fixation on body image and the low self-esteem of adolescent girls, what more could cigarette manufacturers ask for?"

Last December The Tobacco Institute, the industry lobby in Washington, announced a $10 million public relations campaign as its "contribution" to efforts to discourage smoking by minors. For example, it pledged to support a national legal smoking age of 18, to "work with retailers across the country for strict enforcement of state laws prohibiting the sale of cigarettes to minors" and to have posted "wherever cigarettes are sold" a sign warning, IT'S THE LAW/WE DO NOT SELL TOBACCO PRODUCTS TO PERSONS UNDER 18."

The Advocacy Institute points out, however, that the industry could have put up more than twenty times $10 million before spending as much on the P.R. campaign as it reaps in annual profits from sales to children. "More importantly," it adds, "today's young smokers are tomorrow's adult addicts; about 52 percent of smokers begin by age 18, and 90 percent by age 21. In this sense, they are perhaps the cigarette industry's most important customers." Of the nearly 435,000 Americans killed by smoking-induced diseases in 1988 alone, about half were among the "most important customers"--they had started smoking by age 13. One-quarter had started by age 11.

Industry techniques for targeting children are regularly chronicled and comprehensively exposed in Tobacco and Youth Reporter (T.Y.R..), a quarterly published by STAT. Starting with its first issue in 1986, for example, T.Y.R. has been covering the story of paid cigarette advertising in movies. This is important if only because teenagers are three times as likely as adults to be frequent moviegoers. T.Y.R.'s Winter 1988 issue identified eighteen films containing scenes that, STAT had reason to believe, resulted from hidden payments made by tobacco companies to promote smoking covertly to young audiences (T.Y.R. has identified many more such films since). The Summer 1986 issue revealed that R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company was paying all the bills for Moviegoer, although it was disguised as an independent magazine.

"This slick publication was given away free at movie theaters around the country," T.Y.R. said. "Each issue of the 24-page magazine included five full pages of advertising for Camel and Salem cigarettes; there were no other ads. . . . The purpose of Moviegoer was to allow R.J. Reynolds to reach these impressionable kids in the location where they were already most prepared to suspend beliefs and value judgments." After T.Y.R. blew the whistle, Reynolds killed Moviegoer, but it was followed by Movies USA, which also targets Reynolds brands at "youthful" and "image conscious" audiences, and which is also distributed free in thousands of theaters.

Tobacco sales to minors are illegal in forty-four states. Yet STAT's nationwide surveys of stores selling cigarettes over the counter have shown that three out of four, on average, sell them to children as young as 11. In some cities, including Baltimore and Brookline and Lawrence, Massachusetts, children under 18 were able to buy cigarettes in 100 percent of the stores they tested, T.Y.R. reported in its Autumn 1989 issue. Moreover, vending machines dispense cigarettes to an estimated 450,000 children every day. Children could buy cigarettes in 100 percent of the vending machines they tried in Santa Clara County, California; Colorado; the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area; and New Brunswick, New Jersey, T YR. added.

If more evidence is needed to prove that Reynolds targets children, it was provided in a "Very Important" letter that J.P. McMahon, a division manager in Sarasota, Florida, for RJR Sales Company, the tobacco distributor for RJR Nabisco, sent to his employees in January 1990 (the letter was acquired by STAT). He urged them to identify convenience stores patronized by young people, including those "in close proximity to colleges, high schools, or areas where there are a large number of young adults [who] frequent the store[s]. The purpose of this exercise"' he continued, "is to be able to identify those stores ... where we would try to keep premium items ... at all times." [Emphasis added.] "Young adults" is a code phrase for young people including those under 18; "premiums" are defined by STAT as the gifts that the nicotine companies give to reward the purchase of cigarettes. An RJR spokeswoman told The Wall Street Journal that the memo violated company policy and was a "mistake" that was corrected within forty-eight hours.

RJR Nabisco markets Camels with an advertising and promotional campaign featuring "Old Joel" a cartoon character, and a "Smooth Character" tag line. One ad is a foldout poster featuring the cartoon camel. Purportedly to make the poster "suitable for framing," the mandatory health warning, a coupon for a free pack of Camels and an offer for additional posters are all easily detachable. The ad appeared in magazines with large teenage readership, including National Lampoon, Rolling Stone and Sports Illustrated. The choice of such youth-oriented publications angers Mark Green, New York City's Consumer Affairs Commissioner. "Who puts posters up on their walls-children or adults?" Green asks. "Who watches and talks about cartoon characters-children or adults? Who is impressionable enough to link smoking and success or sex-children or adults?"

Green petitioned the Federal Trade Commission, which has exclusive jurisdiction over tobacco advertising, to declare the use of cartoon characters to sell cigarettes an "unfair" or "deceptive" trade practice and to issue a cease-and-desist order. He filed the petition in May 1990. The F.T.C. was still sitting on it ten months later. "I've heard nothing"' Green said in April.

In July 1990 Philip Morris announced a crackdown on unlicensed use of its cigarette logos, or of close imitations, on children's items such as games, toys and candy. In lawyers', journalists' and other publications, the giant tobacco conglomerate ran full-page ads showing its family of brand names and warning in bold, black print, "If You Use These Trademarks, We'll See You In Court!" The brief explanation said that "Philip Morris U.S.A. does not want children to smoke because smoking is an adult choice." Nothing had stopped Philip Morris from cracking down years ago. Because the company didn't, "the assumption was that Philip Morris pushed its cigarettes to kids:' Michael Pertschuk, co-director of the Advocacy Institute (and editorial board member of The Nation), told The Wall Street Journal. "Whether or not that's true, it's a cheap public relations shot for Philip Morris to cross their hearts and swear they never intended to do any such thing'"

Dr. Alan Blum, a leading antitobacco activist and founder of DOC (Doctors Ought to Care), asked, Are they going to go after Shea Stadium and all the other places where they pay good money to put their logos? " He was referring, of course, to the lethality-particularly for minors-of linking the use of tobacco with sports, star athletes and entertainers, and to the hypocrisy of industry denials of such linkage.

The lethality and hypocrisy were memorably illustrated by the story of an Oklahoma boy, Sean Marsee. Like many professional baseball players, Sean used cancer-causing smokeless tobacco. He was a closet "snuff dipper" at 12 (his mother said he had been given free samples at a rodeo) and became addicted or habituated to United States Tobacco Company's popular Copenhagen brand. In high school, where he fulfilled his ambition to become a medal-winning track star, he didn't particularly worry about his habit, figuring that the snuff couldn't harm his lungs as cigarettes would. In 1983, when he was 18, he developed cancer in the middle third of his tongue, near the groove on the right side of his mouth where he had kept his quid of Copenhagen. After three rounds of mutilating surgery he died in February 1984, when he was 19.

Sean's mother filed a lawsuit, ultimately unsuccessful, against United States Tobacco. Under "written policies dating way back into the 1930s, " Louis Bantle, the company's chair and chief executive officer, swore in a deposition, "We never have-and never will-market tobacco to persons under 18." This testimony should be laid alongside his sales pitch at a company meeting in 1968, when he was vice president for marketing. "We must sell the use of tobacco in the mouth and appeal to young people:' the minutes quote Bantle as saying. "We hope to start a fad." He did not dispute the quote when confronted with it in a deposition taken by plaintiff's lawyer George Braly. Bantle's pitch to boys succeeded just fine. "We've gotten excellent growth from young people:' he told the Chicago Tribune in 1977. "In Texas today, a kid wouldn't dare to go to school, even if he doesn't use the product, without a can in his Levi's." It's no wonder, then, that in 1986 a Senate committee report on snuff warned of "the alarming use by children," including 20 percent of Louisiana white boys between 8 (!) and 17.

The widely publicized Sean Marsee story led to a slump in snuff sales-briefly. By May 1990, The Wall Street Journal was reporting that while cigarette sales were declining, "the snuff business is booming"' thanks in good measure to United States Tobacco's "aggressive marketing tactics." Aggressive" translates to heartless and lushly profitable. In 1989, the Journal reported, the "Greenwich, Conn., company's net margin neared 28%, making it one of the nation's most profitable industrial companies-and more than three times as profitable as Philip Morris Cos."

Preposterous defenses of industry conduct didn't impress the National Commission on Drug-Free Schools, a twenty-six-member panel created by Congress. "The alcohol and tobacco industries often target those under the legal drinking and smoking ages with highly attractive and persuasive promotion techniques"' the commission said in its final report last November. Commission member Michael DeWine, a Republican Representative from Ohio, was quoted by United Press International as saying that "some members wanted to go all the way and say that advertising ought to be banned."

Advertising and promotion to children have been alarmingly successful almost everywhere [see Alexander Cockburn, "Beat the Devil;' October 30, 19891. A Kenyan physician told an American Cancer Society meeting in January 1990 that in East Africa in 1979 about 10 percent of primary-school children smoked; in 1989, about 40 percent did. In the Philippines, according to the World Health Organization, 17 percent of boys in the 11-16 age range smoke regularly.

Magazine ads for two French brands in French-speaking Africa ooze a subtle message to young blacks aspiring to acceptance by white society. In Cameroon, the scene in an ad for Bastos Blonde is an elegant grass tennis court. The players chatting at the net are a blond white teenager who looks to be 16, at most, and a similarly young black. In the Ivory Coast, an ad for Gauloises shows two young motorcyclists, one white, one black, enjoying a relaxing moment together on the beach. In both ads, the white expresses his " friendship" with the black by offering him a cigarette.

Until recently, Thailand had prohibited importation of foreign cigarettes and outlawed all cigarette advertising and promotion. But U.S. brands were smuggled in, and Lark, Marlboro and Winston logos were on T-shirts, shorts, towels, earrings, chewing gum-even the covers of children's school notebooks. Last May Dr. Prakit Vateesatokit, leader of the Thai Anti-Smoking Campaign Project, displayed a kite bearing the Winston logo at a hearing held by Senator Edward Kennedy. The kite is "for children"' and its purpose is to addict them, he said. "There is no adult in Thailand who plays with this kind of kite:' And no adult anywhere should believe the industry doesn't target children.
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Author:Mintz, Morton
Publication:The Nation
Date:May 6, 1991
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