In the United States today, more than forty six million Americans are addicted to cigarettes. More people have died due to cigarette smoking than from narcotic drugs, World Wars I and II, and the Vietnam War combined (Bailey 1). The annual death toll for cigarette smoking is more than four-hundred thousand Americans a year, and is the number-one preventable cause of death in the United States. If Americans are aware of the lethal effects of smoking, why is it still so popular? Guy Smith, a Phillip Morris Tobacco Company executive, claims that their research shows that advertising is the top reason people start smoking (Bailey 34). Most people will argue that this is not true because the do not like to be "sold" and do not like to admit advertising affects them. Despite their claims, more Americans buy brand name and heavily advertised products than any other country in the world (Bailey 33). Smoking in the mass media is advertised and portrayed in such a way that it is attractive to the public but does not warn about its harmful effects. The media also targets children and teenagers with cartoon advertisements and by putting them in areas that are attractive you young minds.
Tobacco companies recognize the harmful effects of their products, but deny that their advertisements play any part in creating a desire to smoke. William Hobbs, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company Chief Executive Officer, explains, "Advertising played no part in encouraging people to smoke, so therefore I have no responsibility to urge them not to smoke" (Bailey 205). Phillip Morris Tobacco Company uses a "friendly familiarity" ploy to attract smokers and portrays smoking as a socially acceptable practice. In their advertisements, people can be seen laughing and smoking in a crowded restaurant, but Phillip Morris claims they have never created the idea that smoking is a fun or popular thing to do (Bailey 207).
A major issue today in tobacco advertisement is the controversy over ads targeting children and teenagers. The two companies under the most fire for their advertisements are Marlboro and Camel. Marlboro uses a fictional "Marlboro Man," while Camel uses a high rolling and sophisticated cartoon character, Joe Camel. Camel has been attacked by several Tobacco-free organizations as a major influence on children. Dr. Lonnia Bristow of the American Medical Association remarks, "To children, cartoon characters mean that the product is harmless, but cigarettes are not harmless. They have to know that their ads are influencing children under ten to begin smoking, but choose not to stop creating them" (Thomas). Researchers have conducted studies that show six year olds recognize Joe Camel as well as they recognize Mickey Mouse. Every industry denies that their advertising goal targets people under twenty-one, and they claim their goal is to simply promote brand switching and brand loyalty (Breo). Jeff Pearlman sums up the attitude of the tobacco and advertising industries by saying, "Is the use of a cartoon character in an ad proof that you are "˜targeting children"˜? If so, what about the Pink Panther selling insulation or Snoopy promoting insurance?" (Bill Clinton...).
The media and the entertainment industries have a major impact on smoking. With the help of movies and television, smoking seems "cooler" than ever. In the popular movie, "My Best Friend's Wedding," superstar Julia Roberts' smoking habit seems glamorous and appealing to the viewers and, in past generations, smoking was "romantic" when Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart smoked together (Trillin 2). Smoking in the movies is not only seen as glamorous and romantic, but it is also associated with stress reduction, or a rela activity (Bailey 39). The high rate of smoking in films has been the result of tobacco companies paying producers to place their brand of cigarettes in their movies since the 1930's (Bailey 39).
In 1967, the "Fairness Doctrine" required equal time for smoking and anti-smoking advertisements on television. During this time, the amount of smoking in the United States went down considerably and Americans became more aware of health issues. In January of 1971, all radio and television tobacco advertisements were banned from the airways. Since the anti-smoking advertisements had to leave the air as well, smoking numbers rose again, proving that advertising is effective. The ban went as far as the Supreme Court, and there was ruled constitutional for the benefit of the public's health (Bailey 40). On August 10, 1995, President Clinton directed the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) to adopt rules to stop sales and marketing of cigarettes and smokeless tobacco ads to minors. This new rule would require vendors to examine proof of age before selling tobacco products to minors, tobacco billboards would not be allowed near schools or playgrounds, sporting events would not be sponsored by the brand name of tobacco, and giveaways and other marketing gimmicks involving tobacco would be forbidden. Finally, the tobacco industry would be required to pay one hundred fifty million dollars per year for an educational campaign including anti-smoking ads (Bill Clinton...).
Despite the advertising ban in 1971, advertisements can still be seen on most televised sports events. Tobacco sponsorships of sporting events total about eighty four million dollars a year with billboard advertisements that can be seen on television in almost every sporting event (Bailey 41). Having advertisements on professional sporting events creates the idea that smoking is associated with being athletic; or if tobacco is used, athletic ability and prowess will follow. None of the advertisements mention that smoking, in fact, hinders athletic ability and causes disabling diseases.
Another area where tobacco ads are heavily used are in magazines. Researchers from Harvard University conducted a search of thirty-six different magazines published from 1986 to 1994, fifteen of which were youth magazines. These studies found that tobacco advertisements made up sixty seven percent of all ads placed in the youth magazines. This same group of researchers interviewed twenty-five teens between the ages of fifteen and seventeen. When these teens were asked why they started smoking, they gave two main reasons. They wanted to "be a part if a peer group" and to "reach out and rebel." Two of the youth magazines where tobacco ads were the most prominent, Spin and Rolling Stone, represent rebelling, independence, acceptance, and happiness. These are all things that young people desire, and by having ads in these magazines, the fire for teenage smoking as further fueled (Thomas).
When advertising became a popular means of selling a product, the tobacco industries target audience was women and today it is children. The average age that children start smoking today is twelve. In fact, ninety percent of all adult smokers said that they lit up for the first time as teenagers. The most potent force behind coa them into smoking is advertising (Bailey 51). Statistics show three million children under eighteen smoke in America today. Three thousand teens start smoking each day meaning that one point one million start each year (Trillin 2). To no one's surprise, teenagers smoke the most heavily advertised cigarette brands. Marlboro, Camel, and Newport are the three top sellers and the three most advertised brands. The most advertised brand is always the most smoked by teens, proving that advertising influences them to smoke a particular brand (Bailey 129). An extensive study done by professor Richard Pollay also found that when a company's advertising budget increased, its market share increased only three percent for adults but over nine percent for teenagers (Bailey 131). But what do these companies advertise- not statistics of the harmful effects smoking creates or the number of deaths related to cigarettes.
The tobacco companies target the young generation for a reason. Since smoking is one of the leading causes of death, many smokers die prematuraly because of its harmful effects. The industry must "replace" these lost smokers, so they target children and teenagers. Studies have shown that ninety percent of new smokers are teens, proving that most lifetime smokers start smoking at a young age. Parents today should warn children about the harmful effects of tobacco and the advertising tactics the tobacco companies would use to draw them into this harmful addiction.
Bailey, William E. The Invisible Drug. Houston: Mosaic Publications, 1996.
"Bill Clinton vs. Joe Camel." U.S. News and World Report. (September 2, 1996) 12.
Breo, Dennis L. "Kicking Butts-AMA, Joe Camel and the "˜Black Flag' war on tobacco." The Journal of the American Medical Association. (October 29, 1994)
"Getting the Message Straight." Behavioral Health Management. (July, 2000) 20:48.
Trillin, Alice. "Blowing Smoke." The Nation (July 19, 1999) 269:6.