Dr. Val Farmer
Rural Mental Health & Family Relationships

Tobacco Advertising Gets Teens To Light Up

October 14, 1996

Do tobacco advertising and marketing practices have an impact on the future smoking of teenagers? Psychologist John Pierce, Head of Cancer Prevention at the University of California at San Diego, makes that connection by linking growth spurts in smoking to major advertising campaigns by the tobacco industry.

During the 1880s, the tobacco industry marketed their cigarettes with a picture of a scantily dressed female inside each packet of cigarettes. The "soft porn" approach caused a sixfold increase in overall tobacco consumption from 1880 to 1896.

Shortly after 1911, R.J. Reynolds introduced the Camel brand with expensive town by town advertising and promotions. Reynolds fueled the advertising campaign by plowing 60 percent of his total profits back into his advertising budget.

Leading World War I generals such as General Pershing characterized cigarettes as essential to successful conduct of the war. Volunteer agencies arranged for free cigarettes for every person in uniform. By 1920, Camels had captured half the expanding cigarette market. The rate of male adolescents who started smoking doubled from 1910 to 1920.

In the mid20s, using the theme, "Blow some my way," Chesterfields targeted a successful promotion to women in 1926 and increased sales 40 percent in two years. Playing on women's fears of gaining weight, Lucky Strikes had an enormously successful ad campaign with the theme, "Reach for a Lucky instead of a Sweet."

Luckies went from selling 13.7 billion cigarettes and being the third ranked brand in 1925 to more than 40 billion and market leadership in 1930. From 1924 to 1934 smoking tripled among women ages 10 through 25. There was no discernable rise in male smokers during this period.

In the late 60s, capitalizing on the women's liberation movement, the Phillip Morris Company launched Virginia Slims with the biggest advertising campaign in the history of the company. Remember, "You've come a long way baby." Girls under 14 doubled their smoking rate from 1967 to 1974 and among 14 to 17 years, the smoking incident rate went up by two thirds. The smoking uptake rate among boys stayed about the same.

After cigarette advertising was banned from television, cigarette consumption declined between 1973 and 1985 among all age groups - adults and youth. During that time, the tobacco industry realized that they needed to persuade teenagers to smoke or they would be out of business in 30 years. By 1990, individuals older than 20 no longer started smoking.

By 1988 the rates for teenagers began to increase at a rapid rate. This coincided with a new marketing campaign for Camel cigarettes, featuring a cartoon character, "Joe Camel." Studies found that more six-year-olds recognized Joe Camel than Mickey Mouse. The tobacco industry replicated the study and found that "only" two thirds of the 6-year-olds recognized the Camel figure and understood it marketed cigarettes.

The public thinks because adults are quitting smoking the anti-smoking forces are winning. Wrong! Tobacco has made a big comeback among teenagers.

Advertising and susceptibility to smoking. Tobacco advertising cultivates a predisposition to smoke. The incubation process can take two years or longer before teens decide to try a cigarette. Pierce and his colleague, Arthur Farkas developed these questions to see if teens are sensitive to tobacco marketing:

What is the name of the cigarette brand of your favorite cigarette advertisement?


If you wanted to buy a pack of cigarettes tomorrow, what brand do you think that you would buy?

Some tobacco companies provide promotional items to the public that you can buy or receive for free. Have you ever bought or received for free any product which promotes a tobacco brand or was distributed by a tobacco company?

Do you think you would ever use a tobacco industry promotional item such as a T-shirt?

They also asked teens - smokers and nonsmokers - if they intended to try a cigarette soon, if they would accept a cigarette from a friend if offered, or if they would smoke a cigarette during the next year. Only the "definitely not" response category showed a conscious decision not to smoke.

Farkas found that adolescents were much more likely than adults to see and develop a liking for cigarette advertising. Two-thirds could name a favorite brand. Joe Camel was the favorite advertisement among the 12 to 14 year olds while the 15 to 19 year olds favored Marlboros. These are the two brands teenagers use when they start smoking. One-quarter were willing to use products promoting tobacco.

Sixteen percent of the youth who didn't respond to tobacco marketing were susceptible to smoking in the future. Two-thirds of the adolescents who responded positively to tobacco marketing questions were susceptible to smoking.

Then researchers compared adolescents who had best friends, peer group and family members who were smokers. They were 60 percent more likely to smoke while those with minimum exposure were only 23 percent susceptible. Studies also show that tobacco advertising has a completely different influence than being around other smokers in getting nonsmokers to smoke. Tobacco marketing has as much influence as exposure to peers or family members who smoke.

The tobacco industry claims they aim its marketing at adult smokers 24 and above and that any spillover to teenage smoking is unfortunate. Don't believe it!