Smoking is linked with lung cancer, emphysema, and other diseases. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) (each year about 443,000 people die prematurely from smoking or exposure to secondhand smoke, and another 8.6 million live with a serious illness caused by smoking. Despite these risks, approximately 46.6 million U.S. adults smoke cigarettes. And cigarette smoking costs more than $193 billion, $97 billion in lost productivity plus $96 billion in health care expenditures.
Tobacco companies spend about $15.3 billion on tobacco marketing and promotion. Because they are prohibited from advertising on television and radio, the tobacco companies market and promote their products in convenience stores, in magazines, especially those popular with youth, online, and special promotions designed to lure the young into thinking that smoking is cool or a way to express their independence. Point-of-sale ads oftentimes include coupons, multi-pack discounts for which the retailer is reimbursed, free gifts with cigarette purchases. Retailers are paid to display the tobacco company's ads prominently in display racks or in good shelving space.
In movies and on television series, smoking is portrayed as fun, exciting, and sexy or rebellious or connected to power. Are you watching AMC's Mad Men?
Most smokers start as teenagers or at least start when they are young. The tobacco companies' ads are effective. According to the CDC, each day, about 3,450 young people between 12 and 17 years of age smoke their first cigarette, each day, about 850 persons younger than 18 years of age begin smoking on a daily basis, and each day, about 2,200 adults 18 years of age or older begin smoking on a daily basis.
A recent example of a tobacco company promotional campaign was one launched in October 2010. RJ Reynolds, a subsidiary of Winston-Salem, N.C.-based Reynolds American Inc., began its "Break Free Adventure" campaign. The campaign highlighted 10 destinations including San Francisco, Las Vegas, and New Orleans, Austin, Texas; Seattle; Bonneville Flats, Utah; Sturgis, S.D.; Route 66; Winston-Salem, N.C.; and Brooklyn, N.Y.’s Williamsburg neighborhood, on special cigarette packs distributed in December and January 2011 that feature colorful images of the cities and well-known landmarks. Reynolds had taken the camel off of packages and encouraged smokers to go a special website to find the camel and win prizes.
Why the "Break Free Adventure" campaign? Because RJ Reynolds wants new smokers? The campaign targeted America's youth, the next generation of possible smokers. Smoking has declined in the U.S. in the past ten years. According to the CDC, the smoking rate is about 20 to 21 percent since 2005, down from 28 percent earlier in the last decade. And the American demand for cigarettes is down 4.7 percent from last year and tobacco companies' revenues have stayed flat. In 2010, Camel held 19 percent of the adult smokers under 30. Forty-four percent of its buyers were under 30, and the brand saw 10 percent of tobacco consumers in that category switch from another brand to Camel.
On November 23, 2010, the National Association of Attorneys General (NAAG) asked RJ Reynolds Tobacco Co. to stop this promotional campaign that the group claims appeals to young people. In a letter to the nation’s second-largest cigarette maker, the group said Reynolds’ “Break Free Adventure” campaign has substantial youth appeal and may encourage underage tobacco use.
NAAG's request stated in part, “We are concerned that this advertising campaign is using aspects of popular culture, including independent music, art, motor sports, and ‘hip’ or countercultural attitudes, to advertise Camel cigarettes in a way that is appealing to young people’s psychological needs for rebelliousness, sensation-seeking, and risk-taking." It was written by Nebraska Attorney General Jon Bruning and Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel, co-chairmen of the group’s tobacco committee.
NAAG also cited the 1998 tobacco settlement that prohibits the marketing of tobacco to youth. Those restrictions included a ban on Reynolds’ use of the cartoon character “Joe Camel.”
The Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement (MSA) mentioned above was an agreement entered into in November 1998, originally between the four largest US tobacco companies and the attorneys generalof 46 states. The states settled their Medicaid lawsuits against the tobacco industry for recovery of their tobacco-related health care costs, and also exempted the companies from privatetort liability regarding harm caused by tobacco use. In exchange, the companies agreed to curtail or cease certain tobacco marketing practices, as well as to pay, in perpetuity, various annual payments to the states to compensate them for some of the medical costs of caring for persons with smoking-related illnesses. The money also funds a new anti-smoking advocacy.
Likewise San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera and former San Francisco Public Health Director Mitch Katz wrote a similar letter to the president of RJ Reynolds pointing out that the campaign "shamelessly appeals to youth." And goes on to say, "By associating the cool reputation of San Francisco's Haight neighborhood with a product that kills over 400,000 Americans each year, the Break Free Adventure campaign seeks to undermine our recent public health gains in reducing smoking and the social acceptability of smoking." Further, the letter says, "San Francisco does not want its cultural icons like the Haight to be exploited to promote the idea that youth can 'evolve, revolve or revolt and the follow the force to break free' by smoking Camels." Finally, the letter noted that, "Smoking remains the number-one cause of of preventable death for San Francisco residents and urged RJ Reynolds to cancel the 'Break Free Campaign.'"
In response, RJ Reynolds disingenuously claimed the campaign targets adult, not young smokers. By the way, the legal age for smoking in California is 18 as it is in most states. On its Web site, RJ Reynolds claims it is following the marketing rules in the states’ settlement agreement as well as a voluntary cigarette promotion code promising not to “suggest that smoking is essential to social prominence, distinction, success or sexual attraction.”
RJ Reynolds' "Break Free Adventure" campaign has probably run its course.
At this point, perhaps a very brief history of cigarette advertising is in order. in 1964, the U.S. Surgeon General released his Advisory Committee Report on Smoking and Health. The staggeringly comprehensive report was based on more than 7,000 scientific studies linking smoking with lung cancer, emphysema, and other diseases.
In 1970, the Cigarette Labeling and Advertising Act prohibits cigarette advertising on any medium of electronic communication subject to the jurisdiction of the FCC. It also requires conspicuous "Surgeon General's Warnings" to be placed on all packages of cigarettes and on all cigarette advertisements and billboards.
In November 2003, tobacco companies and magazine publishers agreed to cease the placement of advertisements in school library editions of four magazines with a large group of young readers.
In 2009, the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act gave the U.S. Food and Drug Administration the power to regulate cigarette manufactures. Under the Act, the FDA can dictate product ingredients and overrule new products, compels tobacco companies to eliminate potentially misleading labels like "light" and "mild," regulates a product's ingredients and increases the size of the warning labels on cigarette packs. Cigarette advertising is banned on television and radio. But the FDA is prohibited from banning cigarettes.
Clearly, regulation has had some, but not enough effect on smoking in the U.S. As long as the manufacture and sale of tobacco products is legal, tobacco companies like any other company will market and promote their products to increase sales and market share. The tobacco companies will come up to, an occasionally step ove,r the legal line. It is up to law enforcement agencies and the public to be on the alert.
Is a ban on the manufacture and sale of tobacco products the answer? The tobacco-growing states and the tobacco lobby would be a huge obstacle to such a step. If you banned tobacco products, should we also ban alcohol because of widespread alcoholism. (We know how effective prohibition was.) How about banning certain food items or ingredients that contribute to obesity, heart disease, etc.
Clearly, regulation is not the only answer. Perhaps, more education, public service announcements on television and radio would help. I don't know the answer and neither do our politicians.