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    Tobacco Industry's Targeting of Youth, Minorities and Women

    AHA Advocacy Position

    The American Heart Association supports legislation that seeks to restrict or prohibit tobacco advertising, promotion and marketing to young people, minorities or women. The American Heart Association also works in partnership with the National Center for Tobacco-Free Kids on this important issue.

    How does the tobacco industry target youth?

    The tobacco industry has long targeted young people with its cigarette advertising and promotional campaigns. One of the most memorable, the now-defunct "Joe Camel" campaign initiated by the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, helped generate public outrage against tobacco company efforts to reach young audiences. In the November 1998 multistate tobacco settlement, the major tobacco companies promised not to "take any action, directly or indirectly, to target youth ... in the advertising, promotion, or marketing of tobacco products." But studies since then have shown that tobacco-industry marketing has reached record levels since the settlement, with much of the increase due to strategies aimed at young people.

    In 1999, the first year after the multistate settlement agreement (MSA), the tobacco companies spent a record $8.4 billion on advertising and promotions, an increase of 22.3 percent from the previous year, the largest one-year increase since the U.S. Federal Trade Commission began tracking tobacco industry marketing expenditures in 1970. Then, in 2000, they increased expenditures another 14 percent to $9.6 billion. In 2001, the major tobacco companies increased their marketing expenditures to more than $11.4 billion, an increase in tobacco industry marketing of more than 66 percent since 1998. An August 2001 study in the New England Journal of Medicine showed that cigarette companies increased their advertising in youth-oriented magazines after the MSA was signed, especially for the three brands most popular with youth - Marlboro, Camel and Newport.

    The National Survey on Drug Use and Health estimates that each day more than 4,000 people under 18 try their first cigarette. That's more than 730,000 new smokers every year. According to the Final Report of the National Commission on Drug-Free Schools, children and adolescents consume more than one billion packs of cigarettes a year. Economist Kenneth Warner, Ph.D., estimates that the tobacco industry needs to recruit 5,000 new young smokers every day to maintain the total number of smokers (due to the number of people who quit or die from tobacco-related illness each year). The Department of Health and Human Services estimates that 90 percent of smokers begin tobacco use before age 20; 50 percent of smokers begin tobacco use by age 14; and 25 percent begin their smoking addiction by age 12 (the 6th grade). Since 1991, past-month smoking has increased by 35 percent among eighth graders and 43 percent among 10th graders, while smoking among high school seniors is at a 19-year high. An April 1996 Journal of Marketing study concluded that children are three times more sensitive to advertising. According to a 1994 Centers for Disease Control report, 86 percent of underage smokers prefer Marlboro, Newport or Camel, the three most heavily advertised cigarette brands.

    How does the tobacco industry target minorities?

    During the last decade, the tobacco industry has aggressively increased its advertising and promotional campaigns targeted at minorities. One of the industry's most notorious, and ultimately failed, minority cigarette marketing campaigns was for "Uptown" cigarettes. The American Heart Association, the American Cancer Society and the American Lung Association, working jointly as the Coalition on Smoking OR Health, played an active role in the Philadelphia "Coalition Against Uptown Cigarettes." The coalition brought health, consumer and social justice groups together to oppose the test marketing of Uptown in Philadelphia. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., the manufacturers of Uptown, eventually withdrew the product under pressure from the coalition and HHS Secretary Louis Sullivan, MD. In addressing the issue of tobacco industry targeting of minorities, Dr. Sullivan said: "At a time when our people desperately need the message of health promotion, the tobacco industry's message is more disease, more suffering and more death for a group already bearing more than its share of smoking-related illnesses and mortality." Former District of Columbia Health Commissioner Reed Tuckson defined the tobacco industry's marketing practices as "the subjugation of people of color through disease." Recent studies have shown a higher concentration of tobacco advertising in magazines aimed at African Americans, such as Jet and Ebony, than in similar magazines aimed at broader audiences, such as Time and People. According to the Centers for Disease Control, in 1996 smoking rates among African-American males had doubled within four years. From 1992 to 2000 smoking rates increased among African-American 8th graders from 5.3 percent to 9.6 percent; among African-American 10th graders from 6.6 percent to 11.1 percent, and among African-American 12th graders from 8.7 percent to 14.3 percent. Although African Americans tend to smoke fewer cigarettes per day and begin smoking later in life than whites, their smoking-related disease mortality is significantly higher.

    Black-owned and black-oriented magazines receive proportionately more revenues from cigarette advertising than do other consumer magazines. In addition, stronger, mentholated brands are more commonly advertised in black-oriented than in white-oriented magazines. Billboards advertising tobacco products are placed in African-American communities four to five times more often than in white communities.

    According to the National Coalition of Hispanic Health and Human Services Organizations, the tobacco industry specifically targets Hispanic consumers because of the long-recognized "economic value of targeting advertising to low-income Hispanics and non-Hispanic blacks," and because "Hispanics tend to be much more 'brand-loyal' than their non-Hispanic white counterparts." The Hispanic coalition also concluded "Billboards and posters targeting (the) cigarette message to Hispanics have spotted the landscape and store windows in Hispanic communities for many years, especially in low-income communities... Recent innovations have included sponsorship of community-based events such as festivals and annual fairs."

    How does the tobacco industry target women?

    More than 178,000 women die every year from smoking-related diseases. Smoking among girls and young women increased dramatically during the 1990s. From 1991 to 1999, smoking among high school girls increased from 27 to 34.9 percent. Lung cancer has become the leading cause of cancer death among women, having increased by nearly 400 percent in the past 20 years. That statistic led former U.S. Surgeon General Antonia Novello to comment that "the Virginia Slims Woman is catching up to the Marlboro Man."

    Ironically, since the 1980 Surgeon General's Report on women and smoking, the tobacco industry has stepped up the introduction of cigarette brands targeted to women. The new wave of marketing to women includes cigarettes advertised for their perfumed scents and exotic flavors or whose names include the terms "slims" and "lights." Product packaging and advertising have also featured watercolors and pastels.

    One of the most egregious examples of the tobacco industry's targeting of women was the introduction of "Dakota" by R.J. Reynolds in 1990. An internal Reynolds marketing plan revealed that Dakota was to be marketed to "virile females" between the ages of 18 and 24 who have no education beyond high school and who watch soap operas and attend tractor pulls. At a 1990 Interagency Committee on Smoking and Health meeting chaired by the Surgeon General, the Dakota marketing plan was called a "deliberate focus on young women of low socioeconomic status who are at high risk of pregnancy." The target market for Dakota also happens to be the one group of women where smoking rates have declined the least and who are more likely than other women to continue to smoke during pregnancy. Cigarette companies continue to target women using themes in advertising that associate smoking with independence, stylishness, weight control, sophistication and power.

    Related AHA publications:
    • A Message to Parents (also in Spanish)
    • The Effects of Smoking (also in Spanish)
    • Smoking and Your Risk of Stroke
    • Quit Smoking for Good
    • How To Avoid Weight Gain When Quitting Smoking

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