The Industry

Tobacco marketing makes us sick

From tough warning labels on tobacco products to regulations limiting promotion, tobacco marketing has been a focus of the government for some time now. Most TV and radio advertising ceased in the early 1970's, "lifestyle" product advertising in magazines and newspapers is prohibited, and promotion of tobacco company sponsorships ended in 2003.

But American tobacco regulation, on the whole, is not as stringent and we Canadians are exposed to some very slick marketing due to "cross-over" media from south of our border -- magazines, for instance.

Experts generally conclude that aside from marketing specific brands, tobacco advertising is intended to reassure people that smoking is still "okay" since social acceptability may well be the biggest threat to the industry on this continent. People shun products that are no longer "cool". This is what the tobacco industry fights really hard. They know that long-time smokers need reassurance. They know that new smokers need to be encouraged.

Tobacco companies need you!

They know that most adult smokers started in their teens. And when tobacco is glamourized in media that you pay attention to -- movies, music videos, television -- it provides a powerful message, often subliminal, that smoking is a legitimate and even desirable activity. The World Health Organization says that young people who may feel the least secure socially are the hardest hit by the games that the tobacco industry plays.

In marketing terms, tobacco is a very sophisticated business. And make no mistake, selling tobacco and all the health risks associated with it is big business.

Tobacco companies have been finding very creative ways to promote their deadly products to smokers -- and people who don't smoke yet -- for decades. And many of these marketing efforts don't include taking out a full-page ad in a magazine. They have other ways to get your attention, hoping you'll get hooked.

So pay attention to what you are watching. Watch for tobacco product placements -- a familiar name or logo being used by performers who you may regard as role models -- in situations deliberately designed to be especially stimulating and exciting.

Being media literate means making ourselves more aware of how companies try to get us to think a certain way. But if we know what they're doing, we're simply less likely to be reeled in.

Be media savvy

Keep your eye out for the way smoking is depicted in the movies you pay good money to see. Watch for unrealistic, exploitive situations that equate smoking with:

  • ruggedness in men, desirability in women
  • rebellion (lighting up used as a symbol for challenging authority)
  • a way to relieve stress (as tension builds, stars reach for a smoke)
  • having fun in highly desirable social settings (even though in real life you can't smoke in most of them anymore).

Awareness is half the battle. Send us an e-mail and let us know what you think about these marketing practices.

The early stages

Tobacco companies spend a lot of money on market research. One such Canadian study called Project Plus/Minus was completed in 1982 for Imperial Tobacco as a follow-up to the firm's 1977 Project 16 research. Researchers set up focus groups made up of young men and women aged 16-24, smokers and ex-smokers, to look at a range of issues including why young people start smoking, how young smokers feel about themselves, health issues and quitting. To get the ball rolling in our What's Your Story section, we're presenting some quotes from that report -- what people like yourself were thinking and experiencing 20 years ago. We think these comments stand the test of time.

"I never believed that I, myself, would become that hooked, until I was actually hooked. I chose to ignore the hazards and figured that anytime I wanted to quit I could. When I was hooked I found out it was too late."

"I never thought it'd become a habit.. and I like to tell myself I don't have a habit but really I do. Once you're past half a pack a day, you've got to stop kidding yourself, eh? You never think you'll do ay damage to yourself. You'll know how to control it."

"A lot of my friends have quit... I was kind of getting into a panic because I was going to be the only one left smoking and I didn't want to smoke in front of them after their quitting."

"Now that I watch them smoke, I think it's ugly to see smoke come out of a human body. It might as well come out of their ears. I don't want to look like that."

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