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Big Tobacco Companies Propaganda

Table of Contents

  1. Propaganda of Big Tobacco
    1. Purpose of study
    2. Method of study
    3. Objectives of study
    4. Chapter outlines
  2. Chapter 1: Propaganda
    1. Famous uses of Propaganda
    2. Making the Connections
    3. Philosophies of Propaganda
    4. The importance of knowledge
    5. Propaganda in review
  3. Chapter 2: Big Tobacco promotions
    1. Responses to Health Threat
    2. Deadly serious new games
    3. Targeting the easy market
  4. Chapter 3: Legislation
    1. Real published risks of smoking
    2. Regulations on tobacco marketing techniques
    3. Targeted market research
  5. Chapter 4: Current approach
    1. Current propaganda techniques
    2. Going underground
    3. Public response
  6. Conclusion
  7. References


Propaganda of Big Tobacco

            Pleasant logos and friendly cartoons thanks to the letterheads and marketing strategies of many businesses providing a wide range of products.  In each case, the brand strives to portray itself as the friend of the consumer, offering just the solution for the greatest problems of the day and motivated by a sincere desire to help the community thrive.  These portrayals are very convincing for many consumers who generally believe that brands, at least some brands, can be trusted implicitly.  However, there is a much darker side to marketing that suggests this is not necessarily the case.  Studies are utilized by advertising agencies to identify potential buying demographics.  This information is then used to target specific markets and to learn about public attitudes, why they buy specific products and what sort of promotions would most appeal to their desires to purchase.  Marketing is about creating revenues for some businesses, period. Their efforts to ‘ attain the consumer ‘ went well beyond easy marketing and achieved the propaganda level in their attempts to maintain and boost their market share.  The tobacco industry has used such studies to target the young and uninformed.  They have used deceptive advertising as a result of these findings in the form of marketing ‘low-tar’ cigarettes.  They also appealed to the youth customer with cartoon-like characters. To their pleasure, this strategy actually produced revenues as scheduled without any ethical consideration of the propagandistic approach they adopted in their manipulation of society.  The marketing of filtered and low-tar cigarettes were planned to comfort smokers worried about the health risks associated with the smoking habit and to impart this new product as an alternative to not smoking.  The degree and extent of big tobacco’s use of propaganda is the focus of this study.

  • Purpose of study

The purpose of the present study is to discover how and where big tobacco companies have used propaganda in their regular activities to shape public opinion and gain new customers.  Although people in the Western modernized world seem to be letting go of the smoking habit as it becomes more widely acknowledged that smoking carries with it significant health risks, tobacco company practices in developing worlds and in the past in the modern countries can be seen to use a great deal of persuasion techniques to encourage individuals to smoke.  This includes encouraging young people to associate the image of smoking with concepts of sophistication, independence and modernization in full awareness that cigarettes have an addictive quality that will encourage these young people to remain smokers for lengthy periods of time.  These associations are created through a variety of ways such as sponsorship of specific targeted events, choice of imagery used in promotional materials and responses to public criticisms.  It is expected that a great deal of evidence will be available to prove big tobacco companies have used classic propaganda techniques in order to encourage public support of their products despite scientific evidence of its unhealthy effects on the individual and society.

  • Method of study

            The method to be used for the present study is an examination of the available literature regarding propaganda, its common uses and its effectiveness is shaping opinion.  A great deal of study has been conducted to define and illustrate the practices of propaganda as well as to outline the potential risks propaganda introduces into society as it serves to sway public opinion.  These studies will be applied to the available documentation regarding how big tobacco companies have approached the promotional efforts of their products in a variety of ways to meet with changing pressures in the marketplace up to the present day.

  • Objectives of study

The objectives of this study are to identify the ways in which propaganda is used to influence public opinion regarding a particular issue or product such as smoking or cigarettes.  In identifying this term and its uses, potential dangers will be examined and applied as the study looks into the practices of big tobacco companies throughout recent history.  This will include looking at the various ways that big tobacco companies have promoted their products both as an unregulated market and as a product under strong advisement as medical consequences became more evident.  How the industry has responded to legislation and more direct oppositional promotions also helps to illuminate their tendency toward propagandist practices.

  • Chapter outlines

To achieve the objectives of this study, the first chapter will strive to develop an understanding of the term ‘propaganda’ as it is officially defined and as it is put into practice.  Chapter two will focus on the historic growth of tobacco companies as they aggressively constructed their image link their product with ideals of the prevailing culture.  Although they had to modify some of these approaches with the determination of the Surgeon General that cigarettes posed a definite health risk to smokers and those who were exposed to smoke, these companies did not abandon their fundamental techniques as will be demonstrated through the available literature.  Chapter three will reveal how the big tobacco companies responded to legislation that restricted some of their more successful techniques while chapter four will examine how they are responding to more aggressive public interest campaigns in the present day.

Chapter 1: Propanganda

            Any discussion of how an entity might have used propaganda as a means of furthering its agenda must necessarily begin with a definition of the term.  This is necessary both as a means of avoiding potential differences in understanding as well as defining precisely those characteristics sought as evidence this form of communication is employed.  Propaganda is rightly described as “the deliberate and systematic attempt to shape perceptions, manipulate cognitions, and direct behavior to achieve a response that furthers the desired intent of the propagandist” (Jowett, 2006: 7).  This form of communication is significantly different from persuasion in that it is designed to serve the needs of the propagandist with little or no regard for the needs of the consumer whereas persuasion offers something for both sides of the communication link.  In pointing out how the term has come to be associated as exclusively negative, Jowett (2006) points to the film Battle of the Midway as an example of propaganda without necessarily negative intent.  “According to our definition, The Battle of the Midway was a white propaganda film, for it was neither deceitful nor false, the source was known, but it shaped viewer perceptions and furthered the desired intent of the filmmaker to vilify the enemy and encourage American patriotism” (3).  John Ford’s intentions were clearly to encourage American sentiment, but he associated the term propaganda with political indoctrination, which he felt had little or nothing to do with his film.  The purposes to which propaganda might be used can vary in degree of seriousness from something as seemingly innocent as encouraging national resolve during wartime to something as dangerous as encouraging national resolve during wartime.

  • Famous uses of Propaganda

Perhaps one of the most famous periods in which propaganda was used to widespread and destructive effect was during the years of Hitler’s rule in Germany.  Volksgemeinschaft, loosely translated as referring to an ethnic-national state (Rosenthal, 2005), was an attempt by the German Nazi Party to establish a national community of unified mind.  Toward this end, the party took control of all newspapers, filmmakers, artists, writers and other media at all levels, including children’s theater.  “The German cultural politicians from 1933 onwards absolutely determined the development of art in all its aspects and at all levels” (Whitford, 1970: 157).  In order to control information and propaganda, institutional controls were placed on the entertainment and communications industries.  “In November 1933, Goebbels set up separate state bureaucracies, known as chambers, to control film, theater, music, radio, journalism, literature, and the arts …  Members of the Gestapo, the Nazi secret police, conducted searches of banned artists’ homes to make sure they weren’t creating new works” (Degelman & Hayes, 1997).  The elaborate and violent ideological structure of Nazi propaganda was reinforced by the militant use of museums and exhibitions as vehicles for mass indoctrination and popular entertainment.  “The Nazis took the educational responsibility of the museum very seriously … Using the financial power of the state, the Nazis turned the traditional, somewhat austere, art museum into a circus of traveling media events that sacrificed the needs of art to ideology” (Milton, 1980: 88).  The role of the artist in Hitler’s Germany was to either portray the German world as peaceful, or as drawn into a struggle for survival to defend it.  The art galleries that traded and showed modern art were closed and the faculty of the art institutes that taught or created modern art summarily fired (Goldstein, 2006).  Artist’s works glorified the virtues of the Nazi state and invoked the imagery for Hitler’s words: “Art is a lofty mission that requires the artist to be fanatical; German artists must now answer the call to help undertake the proudest defenses of the German people by means of German art” (Wulf, 1963: 66).  Through the use of propaganda techniques, Hitler was able to project an image of himself to the German citizens that linked him with deep-seated cultural ideologies with the express purpose of furthering his own agenda.  This approach was so successful, he was able to convince many Germans that the genocide of the Jews was not a reality but a rumor implanted by the enemy.

  • Making the Connections

Millions of Germans during the rise of Hitler accepted the removal of alien ethnicities as the only solution to Germany’s problems just as many people today accept big tobacco’s claims that the health risks are not really as dire as the medical community predicts.  The growing tendency towards Volkism among the German people was seized upon by the Nazi’s propaganda machine as they sought to gain power.  “As for the millions of German people who accepted and supported the Third Reich, they were only the products of their history” (Mosse, 1964: 9).  As a result of this manipulation of their traditions, though, a great many innocent Jewish people died and a number of others did as well fighting a war that could not have happened otherwise.  The numbers of Jews who died in concentration camps is generally believed to be close to six million (Nordling, 2009).  Because of this statistic alone, the German nation, and the Nazis in particular, have suffered with the stigma of one of the most evil and cruel nations on earth.  By comparison, cigarette smoking has been linked to as many as 440,000 deaths in America per year according to the American Heart Association (2009).  Statistically, smoking has been proven to remove 10-12 years of life expectancy (“20 Questions”, 2009), while in that time, cigarettes will have been responsible for killing more smokers than Nazis killed Jews during the Holocaust.  Despite these numbers, no one vilifies big tobacco companies to the same effect that they continue to vilify Nazis and even Germany today.  Throughout the course of their existence, cigarette companies have long surpassed the death rates of the Nazis in their lengthy history but their talented use of propaganda techniques have thus far successfully diverted attention from this record to gain continued support.

  • Philosophies of Propaganda

Following the Nazi use of propaganda, the subject became the focus of philosophers on a number of fronts.  Theodore Adorno, for example, contributed a great deal of thought to the issue.  In his book Aesthetics and Politics, one of Adorno’s greater concerns was the idea of writer’s writing as a means of controlling the public opinion, a situation he was watching develop as the Nazis perfected their propaganda objectives.  In this sense, committed art became art of propaganda, retaining strong meanings that were solidly based upon moralistic and fundamental ideals, but that had been twisted and warped to meet a new and dangerous world perspective.  “Committed works credit themselves with any noble significance too easily, and then manipulate them at their convenience. No atrocity was committed under fascism, too, without a moral veneer.  Those who trumpet their ethics and humanity in Germany today are simply waiting for an opportunity to persecute those whom their laws condemn, and to exercise in practice the same inhumanity that they accuse in theory of modern art” (Adorno, 1990: 193).  Having seen enough of committed art being put to shameful use and realizing the extreme sensitivity to it his countrymen were feeling, Adorno advocated an emphasis on autonomous works of art, art that existed in and of itself.  Instead of claiming all art lacks meaning with the exception of a few select pieces of prose, Adorno suggests it is the influence of authoritative control which has divorced meaning from many types of art.  “The fundamental characteristics of this type include conformism, respect for a petrified façade of opinion and society, and resistance to impulses that disturb its order or develop inner elements of the unconscious that can not be admitted” (Adorno, 1990: 179).  Far from blaming a single entity for the loss of meaning in art, Adorno attacks an entire mindset that resists any thought that has not been officially approved.

  • The Importance of knowledge

In his attack against propaganda, Adorno does not only impugn the writer and the environment in which he is writing, but is especially speaking out against a public that has lost its ability or its desire to think for itself, instead blindly accepting any ideas that are presented to them.  However, he also indicates that an audience that becomes aware that the information being presented to them is false reduces the effect of the literature to the level of propaganda.  “Ears which have not let themselves be deprived of their native sensitivity cannot help hearing that they are being talked into something.  It is a usurpation and almost a contempt for victims to speak like this, as if the author were one of them. … The most serious charge against engagement is that even good intentions go wrong when they are noticed, and even more so when they attempt to hide.” (Adorno, 1990: 187).  In effect, this type of misinformation, becoming noticed because of the inconsistencies inherent in its tone, flow or other characteristic, is comparable to a slap in the face on the part of the reader, who has invested his trust and belief in the author for a short time only to learn that that trust and belief have been betrayed.

  • Propaganda in Review

As this discussion reveals, evidence of propaganda use will involve a significant look into the methods of communication employed by a given entity to address a specific audience.  While we may feel more comfortable blaming this type of behavior on Nazis or communists, a more insidious form of this practice is discovered alive and well in Western societies as easily.  This generally takes place in the shape of the ways in which an organization or entity goes about presenting themselves to the world in the form of visual imagery or advertising, but it can be manifested in a number of other ways as well.  As is suggested in an overview of potential definitions of the term, propaganda is more a sociological or psychological appeal based upon deep-seated cultural ideals bent and twisted to suit the propagandist’s purposes through as many means of communication as can be discovered (Jowett, 2006).  In analyzing these means of communication, it will be important to determine whether the communication is attempting to make a connection with the audience on an ideological or superficial level.  It will also be important to discover whether the intent behind the communication is to foster an interactive relationship between the communicator and the audience or a one-sided relationship in which the communicator stands to benefit from the manipulated actions of the audience as a result of concentrated communication efforts.  Hitler realized the possibilities of controlling Germany’s youth and ensuring total control over a future generation to continue the idea of the Riech as was illustrated in the types of books and theater they were permitted to take part in (Mills, 2005).  The cigarette companies have keyed into the same demographic for the same reason – an impressionable audience with a long expectancy of continued indoctrination into the mindset desired, that is, smokers.  However, big tobacco has an edge Hitler didn’t with the addictive quality of nicotine that makes changing one’s mind due to later education more difficult than simple ideological modification.

Chapter 2: Big Tobacco Promotions

Uncovered documents regarding the promotional efforts of tobacco companies in the 1960s and 70s show that the Joe Camel campaign was conceived from an advertising suggestion to use comic strip characters that appealed to younger potential smokers.  This was after a study which revealed that first-time smokers generally preferred Marlboro, a trend aided by the highly successful ‘Marlboro Man’ campaign.  The vast marketing success of Joe Camel fostered similar ad campaigns such as the Kool penguin.  Sporting sunglasses, ‘Willie the Kool’s’ design and marketing focus addressed young teenagers’ need to fit in, or be ‘cool’.  Tobacco advertising has been banned from television viewers since the late 1960’s but has found alternative means by which to market.  By sponsoring an extensive variety of youth oriented events such as rock concerts and sporting events, tobacco companies have continued to gain wide-ranging exposure for their harmful product by associating them with positive youth experiences and covering them with catchy characters and other marketing ploys.

  • Responses to Health Threat

The scientific community began to conduct research and subsequently published articles that made a direct connection between smoking and lung cancer during the early 1950s, potentially damaging the tobacco industry as a whole.  The tobacco industry quickly answered by terming these findings a ‘health scare’ designed to deflect the allegations of the possible lethal health threat.  Tobacco companies initially responded to the ‘health scare’ by launching filtered cigarettes alongside marketing schemes that responded directly to these health risk assertions.  For example, in 1958, the makers of the cigarette Parliament announced its new product that boasted a ‘Hi-Fi’ filter.  The ‘high filtration’ or Hi-Fi connotation was meant to identify with the popular, state of the art, high fidelity sound reproduction of the 1950’s.  The company went to great lengths in its marketing technique in selling the intended imagery.  The rollout campaign began with an elaborate press conference in New York.  “In the foyers, test tubes bubbled and glassed-in machines smoked cigarettes by means of tubes.  Men and women in long white laboratory coats bustled about and stood ready to answer any questions.  Inside, an executive from Philip Morris informed journalists that the fresh Hi-Fi filter was an ‘ irrevocable meaning ‘ occurrence.  The new filter was described as `hospital white’” (Whelan 1984) while the true danger of cigarettes was masked under these images of clean filtration coupled with instant pleasure gratification.

Big Tobacco Companies Propaganda

Tobacco companies put much energy and money into molding the public’s perception that they were attempting to curb the harmful effects their product might offer to their customer, that they were the consumer’s friend (Whelan, 1984).  The public wanted to smoke and the benevolent tobacco industry was making it safe to do so through the wonders of filters.  The advantage of filtration was the perceived reduction, if not total eradication, of cancer and other health risks that were being publicized.  Advertising jingles and slogans asserted or at least implied good smoking ideas such as ‘ Viceroy’s ‘ Double-Barreled Health Protection, ‘ ‘ Just What the Dr. Ordered ‘ from L&M, ‘ Inhale to Your Heart’s Content ‘ from Embassy, ‘ The Secret to Life is in the Filter ‘ from Life, and ‘ Extra Margin ‘ from Parliament.’ (of safety protection, implied by analogy to helmets, seat belts, and other safety gear).  Other ad slogans, such as Viceroy’s ‘Thinking Man’s Filter’ or ‘delivers more of what you smoke a filter for,’ were even more implicit yet still begged for health inferences by consumers” (Johnston 1966).  This strategy, while actively working to refute claims of health organizations, continued to have a marketing problem though in the way the users of filters were perceived.

  • Continued Perception Problems

While introducing their new ‘safer’ cigarettes, the tobacco industry found that it was losing a good number of its potential customers due to a perception of weakness in making use of this new ‘safety’ feature.  In a study conducted for Brown and Williamson (B&W), men who smoked low-tar cigarettes were suspect of being ‘weak’ in the viewpoint of many consumers.  “This echoed their research finding in the 1960s that the men who smoke filters were apprehensive and depressive.  They think of death, they worry about possible problems, they are uncomfortable if they are inactive, they do not trust others” (Oxtoby-Smith 1974).  The 1974 advertising advisors to Lorillard, in an attempt to respond to this problem, launched an approach to advertising for the True brand that they felt had a more ‘masculine, macho’ tone.  The cigarette Vantage was described by marketers as ‘laying it on the line’ in a bid for an aggressive and masculine image (DeGarmo 1974).  Despite this problem of the ‘weak’ male smoker, it was as a result of utilizing low-tar advertising techniques that more people than ever before were changing brands, opting for a supposed healthy alternative to smoking that didn’t involve giving up the habit entirely.  The reassurance of the deceptive lower tar claims led those who were health conscience to simply change brands rather than quit the deadly habit altogether.

  • Deadly Serious New Games

As the news of the health community began to be more widely accepted, big tobacco found it necessary to more directly address the campaigns to get people to quit smoking.  True’s advertising campaign in the 1970’s was directed towards the growing trends of consumers to stop smoking.  The ad agency representing the company portrayed True as the equivalent alternative to quitting evidenced by their own words.  “It is useful to consider lights (low-tar cigarettes) more as a third alternative to quitting and cutting down, a branded hybrid of smokers’ unsuccessful attempts to modify their habit on their own.  In reality, smoking an ultra low tar cigarette seems to ease some of the smoking culpability and provide an excuse for not quitting” (Goldstein 1979).  B&W expressed the two main goals of effective advertising, providing assurance about their product’s healthfulness without doing so forcefully and to provide a publicly appealing brand image.  “In the past, good cigarette advertising has provided a means of justification for the average smoker. Reducing physical performance danger is essential for some smokers, for others reducing the danger of ‘ ego / status ‘.  All good cigarette advertising has either directly addressed the anti-smoking arguments prevalent at the time or has created a strong, attractive image into which the besieged smoker could withdraw” (Latimer 1976).  Within these debates it is discovered that the concerns of the marketing campaign were based more upon ideological concepts, adopting a propagandist perspective in their deliberate manipulation of cultural ideals and icons to convey a false sense of confidence in their product.

  • Targeting the Easy Market

Despite the efforts to portray tobacco products, particularly the individual brand, as being a more healthful approach to smoking for those who already engage in the practice, many corporate documents from tobacco manufacturers make reference to the fact that success of a brand is with young smokers.  A 1984 RJ Reynolds document attributed the success of Marlboro to its strong imagery that “was in tune with younger adult smokers’ enduring want to express their maturity and independence through smoking” (Burrows 1984).  Winston attributes its success to its effective marketing to young people appealing to their sense of “‘peer pressure’, the ‘bandwagon effect.’  A 1973 RJR document outlined the advertising elements of a brand that would attract young smokers as including ‘participation, togetherness and membership in a group, a mechanism for relieving stress, tension, awkwardness, boredom adventurous, different, adult, something arousing, some curiosity and some challenge and must become the proprietary in thing.” (Teague 1973).  Studies that were requested by tobacco companies revealed that teens aged 16 and 17 have especially strong social bonds to friends.  It concluded advertising which emphasizes how the brand supplies added acceptance by one’s peers would be especially successful with teenagers.  A marketing research study by RJ Reynolds in 1984 remarked: “Given the keen interest of older adult smokers in peer acceptance / approval, younger adult smokers are likely to be interested in a brand that addresses social acceptability efficiently and also offers the other smoking advantages they want” (Burrows 1984).  The report went on to suggest that RJ Reynolds “make resources available to develop/improve its capabilities to thoroughly identify and track demographics, values/wants, media effectiveness, and brand performance within sectors of the younger adult smoker population” (Burrows 1984).  Again, the principles of propaganda are found to be at work.

Marketing research on perceptions of Camel cigarettes in the mid-1980’s referred to studies on young adult smoker.  A 1984 memo analyzed young adult perceptions of Camel recommended that advertising for Camel “be positioned against young adult smokers who would like to be non-conformist” (Martin 1984).  This memorandum includes a table of differing teenage social groups, including such labels as “Goodies’, ‘Preps’, ‘Rockers’ and ‘Punkers.’  Camel redefined itself by appealing to the ‘Rockers’, ‘Partiers’, and “Punkers.’” (Martin 1984).  A 1986 memo recommended that Camel advertising be directed towardusing peer acceptance/influence to provide the motivation for target smokers (defined as 18–24 male smokers) to select Camel” (Caufield 1981).  The memo goes on to suggest that the purpose of the advertisement is to persuade “target smokers to project an picture by choosing Camel as their usual brand that will improve their recognition among colleagues” (Caufield 1981).  The memo also notes that, “advertising will rely on clearly aspiration appeals, the me I want to be versus the me I am, and to provide the motivation for target smokers to select Camel” (Caufield 1981).  In appealing to the fundamental emotional needs of the younger target market, big tobacco companies are using propaganda to increase their appeal and develop a long-term recurring market.

Tobacco companies have routinely researched the smoking habits of teenagers and competed vigorously with each other to design products and their accompanying marketing strategies to ensnare a segment of the youth smoking market.  When young persons see cigarette logos linked with their heroes, excitement, speed and triumph, they are likely to lose sight of the grim realities of smoking; death, disease and addiction.  An addictive product doesn’t take much to hook a new customer.  For the tobacco companies, the expense of giving away free samples is negligible compared to the potential for long-term gains, especially from new young customers.  These tactics may make sense from a purely commercial standpoint but ethically and morally, the tobacco industry demonstrates the dark side of marketing, the willingness of brands to do whatever it takes to sell the product.  This includes researching the inner psychological needs of its target audience as a means of manipulating them, the very definition of propaganda techniques.

Chapter 3: Legislation

There have been several attempts to curb the interest in smoking by health associations and governments around the world.  Numerous countries have enforced a requirement placed on tobacco producers to warn consumers about the potential risks involved with use of the product on the packaging itself.  A great deal of the decreases in smoking seen in the years between 1970 and 1990 can be attributed to a large extent upon more effective health warnings regarding the very real risks to personal and social health brought forward by smoking.  Further legislation is in place to prevent children under the age of 18 from purchasing tobacco products and health agencies actively participate in prevention strategies (Whyte & Kearney, 1999).  Increased efforts at preventing young people from beginning the habit and greater attempts to help smokers quit the habit have also had some effect on these statistics.  “Just over two-thirds (68%) of Great Britain’s tobacco smokers said they wanted to give up in 2005, but 56% said it would be hard to go without smoking for a whole day.” (General Household Survey, 2005).  These health warnings began as murmurs in the health community and eventually became concerning enough for many governments to require warnings on product packaging in an attempt to ensure users are aware that the product represents a significant health risk; however, tobacco companies responded by making these warnings as small as possible and treated them as if they were a sort of joke, disguising the warnings in numerous ways to reduce their visibility and impact.  As tobacco companies continued to fight against this type of legislation, the medical community has responded with increasingly more tests demonstrating a definitive link between smoking and numerous illnesses.

  • Real Published Risks of Smoking

There are numerous health-related risks definitively linked to smoking.  Cancer was perhaps the first of these links.  “Lung cancer is the most deadly disease associated with smoking and will most probably affect smokers compared to non-smokers.  Statistics show that 90 per cent of smokers develop lung cancer and one out of ten moderate smokers and one out of five heavy smokers will die of lung cancer” (Hartwell, 2007).  Other forms of cancer have also been linked to smoking including cancer in the throat, the mouth, the larynx (voice box), oesophagus, kidney, bladder, pancreas, stomach, blood (in the form of leukemia) and cervix (Smoking Related Illnesses, 2008).  Although cancer is very common among smokers, the primary health concern remains focused on the cardiovascular system.  “The harmful substances inhaled by smokers harden the arteries which speed up blood clotting” (Hartwell, 2007).  This can lead to stroke, heart disease, aneurysms and peripheral vascular disease which can lead to amputation.  The respiratory system is also heavily affected as infected lungs become less able to recover from the constant onslaught.  According to an article entitled “Smoking Related Illnesses” (2008), “90 per cent of cases of emphysema seen by physicians are caused by smoking” while cases of pneumonia and bronchitis are much more prevalent in smokers than non-smokers.  Other risks include reduced fertility and birth complications for women, significant health risks to the unborn baby such as higher rates of cot death, gum disease leading to the loss of teeth, brittle bones, eye cataracts, stomach ulcers and premature skin aging.

To counteract some of these frightening claims, tobacco companies began switching their campaigns from one intended to directly refute health claims to one that attempted to redirect attention away from them.  “In time, the industry became aware that explicit health claims risked the undesirable effect of reminding consumers about health allegations and issues.  To avoid this, motivation researchers and other trade analysts advised the industry to shift from explicit verbal assertions of health to subtler tactics using visual imagery and ad copy that implied healthfulness” (Pollay 1989).  Big tobacco suddenly became big supporters of popular sports teams, amateur athletic events and fun, community-wide festivals or events.  By appearing in such close connections with these activities, the perception was given that smoking couldn’t really be as bad for the individual as the health community claimed, particularly when it was felt that professional sports athletes were still able to compete in spite of their smoking habit.  If professionals could compete at that level while smoking, surely it couldn’t be as bad for the individual as ‘they’ claimed.  By associating themselves with sporting activities and athletes, big tobacco companies were able to override some of the underlying claims of health risks.

  • Regulations on Tobacco Marketing Techniques

In addition to the requirements for notices of health risks placed on the packaging itself, numerous countries have also begun to regulate the venues through which big tobacco is permitted to send out its message.  Regulations have been put in place in numerous countries banning the promotion of cigarettes at public functions and events, especially those geared toward families and young children as well as advertising in mainstream media channels such as television and film commercials (Ogden, 2008).  Regulations being considered to ban smoking in public areas is based on further evidence that has come out of the medical community that suggests secondhand smoke may be more dangerous than smoking itself.  Secondhand smoke is defined as that smoke that an individual inhales as a result of someone else’s smoking nearby and can have significant impacts on the public health.  While some argue that the danger from this smoke is minimal, others have identified several properties of secondhand smoke that make it clear this form of smoke is more potent and therefore more dangerous than the smoke the smoker is inhaling into his or her lungs.  According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (1992), smoke inhaled through the filter of a cigarette has only half of the tar and nicotine that can be found in a similar sized cloud of secondhand smoke.  Despite their non-smoking status, this same report indicates that approximately “3,000 non-smokers a year die from lung cancer caused by secondhand smoke” and another “37,000 non-smokers a year die from heart disease attributed to secondhand smoke” (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 1992).  These numbers are supported by other evidence of the harmful effects of secondhand smoke such as the study conducted by Fontham et al (1994) in which it was shown that non-smoking women married to heavy smokers had twice the risk of non-smoking women married to non-smokers to develop lung cancer.  Another study conducted on workers who were often exposed to repeated and extended exposure to secondhand smoke, such as bartenders and waitresses, also demonstrated a 25-75 percent greater risk of lung cancer, with the chances becoming increasingly likely with the number of years employed in such environments (Pisani et al, 2001).  Children exposed to high levels of secondhand smoke are susceptible to greater instances of bronchitis, pneumonia and other respiratory infections, chronic ear infections and asthma (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 1992) in spite of never having smoked in their lives while they also experience a higher incidence of smoking as young adults thanks to the habits of their early role models.

  • Circumventing Legislative Restrictions

Although big tobacco was prevented from marketing directly to children under the age of 18 as a result of legislation reacting to health community claims, this did not prevent them from finding new means of reaching out to the ‘young adult’ crowd in other means, proving that propaganda is not limited to advertising alone.  Company documents clearly reveal that during the 1970’s and 1980’s, Philip Morris was very aware of the fact that its Marlboro brand was the teenager’s cigarette of choice.  A 1981 Philip Morris study report ‘ Young smokers: incidence, trends, consequences and associated population patterns ‘ expressed the meaning of understanding reasons for kids to begin smoking.  “It is essential to understand the patterns and attitudes of adolescent smoking as much as possible. Today’s teenager is the prospective client of tomorrow, and the overwhelming majority of smokers start smoking first while they are still teenagers” (Johnston 1981).  The study of papers from the tobacco company found that its written references to minors started to disappear in the early 1970s.  The term ‘young adult’ steadily replaced the term youth.  Several papers read much the same as a 1975 memorandum by a Brown & Williamson executive directing the recipients, “when describing the low-age end of the tobacco company, please use the word ‘ young adult smoker ‘ or ‘ young adult tobacco market ‘ and ‘ that these terms should be used in future in all written materials.’” (Hall 1980).  However, this was not a call to end advertising to teenagers.  It was simply a directive to alter the language for image purposes as evidenced in their ‘new’ approaches under the marketing bar.  For example, a division manager for RJ Reynolds issued a memorandum in January 1990 requesting that sales representatives for the company identify stores that sold cigarettes frequented by large numbers of young adults.  He specified that “these stores can be in close proximity to colleges, high schools or areas where there are a large number of young adults frequenting the store” (McMahon 1990a).  The purpose of the directive’s implementation was to “try to keep premium items in stores at all times” (McMahon 1990a).  In May of that year, he supplied a retraction, stating, “I was wrong in identifying the specific age group of these young adults.  It has always been this company’s policy that we do not promote or sell our cigarette products to anyone under the age of 21” (McMahon 1990b).  The apology was given for identifying a ‘specific age group’, not for the mistake of including ‘high schools’ in the first memo.

  • Targeted Market Research

Another of the many examples of a tobacco company targeting the young potential smoker is a document that speaks of the interchangeability of young adult smokers in a teenage smoking report authored by RJ Reynolds (RJR) marketing researcher Diane Burrows.  This 1984 report ‘Younger adult smokers: strategies and opportunities,’ stated the importance of young smokers.  “Over the past 50 years, young adult smokers have been the critical factor in every significant brand and company’s development and decrease. For two easy reasons, they will remain essential for brands / companies in the future: (1) the renewal of the market stems almost entirely from 18-year-old smokers, no more than 5 percent of smokers start after age 24; and (2) the brand loyalty of the 18-year old smokers far outweigh any tendency to switch with age” (RJ Reynolds n.d.).  Although the study was careful to mention smokers over the era of 18, the appendix of the study shows that “more than two-thirds of male smokers begin at the era of 18, implying that the word ‘ young adult smokers ‘ is simply an euphemism used to describe adolescent smokers.” (Burrows 1980).  A marketing professor at the University of British Columbia reviewed tobacco industry documents on the subject of marketing to youth.  His results found that the method of conceiving, creating and deploying cigarette advertising aimed at young people was closely and extensively investigated by tobacco producers.  To hire starters, brand pictures provided autonomy, liberty and peer recognition and marketing that portrayed smokers as appealing, independent, accepted and admired and athletic.” (Pollay 2000).  These documents demonstrate that cigarette marketing was geared toward creating a demand for cigarettes and not simply brand loyalty as the tobacco industry had repeatedly asserted.  Though the messages were no longer explicitly created with obvious teenage slant, the implicit messages inherent in the various forms of brand building utilized by big tobacco companies continued to speak to the underlying principles and values held in esteem by the younger teenage market and thus circumvent the legislative restrictions that have been put in place.

Chapter 4: Current Approach

Today, cigarette advertising continues to be seen everywhere with the exception of media outlets.  Sponsorship of sporting events is particularly common for cigarette marketers as it gives them a medium to connect their products with popular events and an opportunity to get their brand logos on television in violation of the spirit of the federal broadcast advertising ban (Philip Morris 1992).  A 1987 Philip Morris report discusses the value of sponsorship of auto racing: “Marlboro 500 at Michigan International Speedway was highly successful in creating brand awareness and generating positive publicity.  The PM sales force did an exceptional job in placing banners and point of sale material in the surrounding area, as well as conducting sampling activities at the track itself.  The race was broadcast live on ABC-TV, and Marlboro signage was visible throughout the 4 hour telecast” (Philip Morris 1987).  Although bans have been placed on some of these activities, such as no cigarette advertising permitted during youth sporting activities in which youth are predominantly involved in the actual event itself rather than merely participating as spectators, it is clear that tobacco companies continue to find means of circumventing the system in order to ensure their logos or images are readily available to a wide range of ages with a positive association made.

  • Current Propaganda Techniques

Tobacco companies have used a wide range of promotional strategies such as free samples, discount coupons, sponsorships of events, as well as buy one get one free, posters, lighters, T shirts and contests or other give-aways as a means of enticing people to try their addictive product and to make positive associations between smoking and social acceptance or defiance, depending upon the target market involved.  “Tobacco manufacturers have fastidiously held to the position that these promotional efforts are aimed at established adult smokers, with the goal of capturing potential ‘brand- switchers.’” (Beasley 1998).  Again, it has been shown cigarette advertising causes a consequent adverse effect upon adolescent smoking behavior.  A research paper by Katz and Lavack examined the tobacco industry’s use of bar promotions to market cigarettes.  “While one might expect that bar promotions would have no impact on teenage smokers, tobacco industry documents reveal that such promotions help communicate product brand information indirectly through a diffusion process” (Martin 1984).  “Since teens aspire to be older and more mature than they are, recruiting younger adults to smoke your cigarette brand is perhaps the best way to try to communicate to teens that your brand is the ‘in brand.’” (Zollo 1995).  Philip Morris sponsored the ‘Marlboro Adventure Team,’ in the 1990’s with the expressed goal to “increase visibility and build Marlboro sales” (Philip Morris 1992).  Though much of the items offered had an obvious youthful appeal, the company offered the disclaimer that “individuals must be 21 years of age or older” to participate.  Despite this, a number of underage individual’s names somehow managed to appear on company mailing lists generated by these types of promotional activities intended for direct marketing mailers.  Many letters were found from parents that were sent to Philip Morris insisting that the names of their children be removed from the company’s mailing list to prove that this type of marketing obviously reaches much further than the bar scene itself (Coach, Schulyer & Schulyer  1993).   This signifies that the company was aware that their promotional program appealed to underage consumers and they had intentionally continued their propagandist efforts in this arena as a successful approach.

  • How to Propagandize when Channels are Limited

While legislation and increased awareness have made it more difficult for big tobacco to advertise directly to their most cherished clientele, the ‘young adult’, they have found other means of appealing to these age groups that skirt underneath the legislative radar and appeal directly to the senses of the individuals themselves.  This can be discovered in some of the approaches that have been taken in developing ‘brand image.’  In the tobacco industry, brands such as Camel have been able to persuade female customers, particularly young women in the target age range, to purchase cigarette products with attractive packaging design that utilize style, specific color combinations and smart advertising to increase market share in this growing consumer market.  The company reported $8.93 billion in revenues in 2007 (Reynolds American, 2008) and introduced its new brand targeting young women in the target age range through the introduction of Camel No. 9.  The product is identified by a slick black flip-top box with hot pink cantilevered edges and the traditional camel silhouette logo in hot pink centered on the box which is designed specifically to appeal to the younger, urbanized market to whom bright colors and sharp contrasts particularly appeal (Hines, 2007).  Virginia Slims utilized customized ads to target different cultural backgrounds in their advertising campaigns.  In this campaign, each ad depicts a different woman who is incredibly beautiful.  The ad is structured so as to highlight her beauty and is accompanied by the unifying slogan ‘Find your voice’ (Virginia Slims, 2008).  In this presentation, the company implies that smoking is among those decisions that only a woman can make for herself regardless of the more traditional strictures of her culture (Spivak & Jallonardo, 2008).  By featuring such beautiful women, the company associates itself with the ideals of modern society, encouraging separation between the traditional constrained lifestyle of women and celebrating her ability to wield power of her own.  In this specific instance, the woman is looking outward, implying that she is unlimited in her possibilities and looking upward, suggesting that she can only improve from here out.

  • Going Underground

While these approaches are still within the visible and promotional realm, the tobacco industry has not overlooked more subtle means of communicating to its target audience, as evidenced in Camel’s No. 9 packaging.  Packaging design initiatives are geared at connecting a company closer with the customers in order to influence their purchasing behaviors.  A simple means for a company to change its image and message to consumers is simply changing the packaging solutions that have been used in the past.  Packaging solutions are created based on the needs of a segment of customers whose demand for a particular trait in a product can lead to increased sales for a company based on packaging design superiority.  Among the different attributes a designer can implement into a packaging design include shape, color, weight, technology compatibility, graphics, durability and functionality (Young, 2008).  Packaging design can be used as a strategic tool to add value to a corporation and expand into a global marketplace by remaining focused on the postmodern approach.  The aesthetic look of the package of a product influences consumer behavior by providing a visual perception in a buyer’s mind of the product’s quality through its visual representation – i.e. a balanced design might convey the idea of a stable company; an abstract design may indicate energy or youth.  The perception gained by the consumer through this packaging reinforces ideas of brand value thus contributing to greater consumer retention.  While color choice such as the Camel redesign can have a great impact on attracting the attention of a teenager attempting to purchase cigarettes for the first time, package design and product design can also make a strong appeal.  Unusual but clever packaging choices can convey a sense of fun and utility while products such as colored or flavored cigarettes can be equally attractive to a crowd eager to experiment.

  • Public Response

There have been a number of responses to the smoking propaganda attempting to educate the consumer regarding the deception big tobacco is practicing.  These include the QUIT program in the UK which offers several options to help support smokers attempting to kick the habit.  This campaign offers a number of means for smokers to attempt to stop smoking through peer-based support techniques such as Text to Stop, a texting feature that allows volunteers and smokers to talk in real-time, giving smokers attempting to quit an immediate outlet to both occupy their fingers and distract them from their desire to smoke even as they talk with someone supportive of their desire to quit (Quit 2008).  Through medical updates, the site also provides smokers with helpful information letting them know when to seek medical help based on symptoms common for smokers, such as COPD.  Although the focus of the campaign is to encourage smokers to quit, it does not condemn those smokers who haven’t yet quit the habit.  The organization provides a means of organizing community fitness programs and organizes special fundraising events based on physical exercise.  Finally, the program offers a separate section geared specifically toward adolescents and young adults, helping these individuals connect with others their own age and with a specific focus on the concerns and issues facing this age group.  Because it provides numerous avenues of support free of change to anyone wishing to quit smoking, the QUIT campaign is expected to be very effective in helping Britons quit smoking.


Tobacco companies have routinely researched the smoking habits of teenagers and competed vigorously with each other to design products and their accompanying marketing strategies to ensnare a segment of the youth smoking market in spite of legislative restrictions and overwhelming medical evidence regarding the dangerous nature of their products.  When young persons see cigarette logos linked with their heroes, excitement, speed and triumph, they are likely to lose sight of the grim realities of smoking; death, disease and addiction.  Coupled with attractive packaging, fun product enhancements and direct appeals to emotional needs and desires of this age group, big tobacco actively engages in propaganda techniques to both capture a new audience as well as retain an older one.  An addictive product doesn’t take much to hook a new customer, placing a great deal of the emphasis on the youth market as entering users likely to remain trapped for a long period of time, perhaps life.  For the tobacco companies, the expense of giving away free samples is negligible compared to the potential for long-term gains, especially from new young customers.  These tactics may make sense from a purely commercial standpoint but ethically and morally, the tobacco industry is guilty of dark use of propaganda perhaps more so than any other.

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