How Tobacco Companies Target the Young and Vulnerable

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According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), almost nine out of 10 smokers had their first cigarette by age 18. Greater than 99% of adult smokers first tried smoking by the age of 26. Every day in the United States, an average of 3,200 children 18 and under smoke their very first cigarette. The statistics for mentally ill and vulnerable smokers are just as alarming – adults with mental illness or substance use disorders account for almost 40% of all cigarette users in the country.

The fact that most tobacco users are young, mentally ill, or otherwise vulnerable is not a coincidence. For decades, major tobacco companies have intentionally geared marketing toward these populations. Tobacco companies are infamous for ads targeting teenagers and the mentally ill, despite the knowledge that cultivating a tobacco habit could lead to significant health problems and premature death. Look at all the ways tobacco tycoons have marketed toward the most vulnerable populations over the years.

Advertising Fun and Trendy Flavors

The future success of tobacco companies relies upon getting the next generation hooked on smoking cigarettes, using e-cigarettes and vaporizers, and chewing tobacco. Major tobacco brands will always deny targeting youth, but it’s clear the ads and new, fun flavors would be more attractive to youth than adults. Companies intend flavors such as “Wild Berries” and “Very Berry Slushie” to entice young people to try new flavors and experiment with tobacco products to see how they taste.

Marketing Vaporizers Toward Kids

In 2016, almost twice as many high schoolers vaped than smoked cigarettes. Tobacco companies marketed vaping as a “safer” alternative to cigarette smoking and poised it for youth use with tantalizing flavors and scents. Yet vaporizers and e-cigarettes are still tobacco products that contain addicting and harmful nicotine. It appears the growing use of vaporizers in recent years is what has kept tobacco companies stable despite the overall decline in cigarette and cigar use. New flavors have reached an all-time craze with the rising popularity of vaping among America’s youth, with the number of young users growing to 2.39 million teens in 2015.

Creating Relationships with Organizations for the Mentally Ill

Aside from targeting young people, big tobacco companies have also historically marketed toward the mentally ill. The tobacco industry has developed relationships through financial donations with organizations that work with the mentally ill, as well as provided low-cost tobacco products to psychiatric facilities. Tobacco companies’ efforts to hook the mentally ill and keep them dependent on cigarettes has been quiet but steady and resulted in an exorbitant number of mentally ill patients addicted to tobacco.

Targeting African Americans

According to the CDC, African Americans are at a higher risk of death from cigarette smoking than Caucasian people. Research links smoking to three leading causes of death in the African American community – stroke, heart disease, and cancer. Despite these risks, tobacco companies have worked hard over the years to target this population. Companies have contributed to minority colleges, elected officials, and community organizations to maintain a positive brand image amongst African Americans, as well as placed more money in African American publication advertisements than in white publication ads.

Legal Actions to Stop Tobacco Advertisements Targeting the Young and Vulnerable

The tobacco industry has faced a few major legal actions regarding its marketing practices, including a recent lawsuit from the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ). The DOJ is suing the industry for civil fraud and racketeering violations. The DOJ is alleging that the tobacco industry has intentionally concealed the true hazards of smoking and the addictive nature of tobacco. The industry is also facing a lawsuit for marketing to youth and suppressing information. Lawsuits against the industry have existed for nearly two decades, with the parties finally agreeing on the details of new ad implementation and packaging in June 2017.