What Tobacco Companies are Spending to Market its Products

Each year, the tobacco industry spends billions of dollars on advertising, sponsorships, and other forms of promotion in the United States and in other parts of the world, spending about 10.5 billion per year (about 29 million everyday) to promote its products.

Advertising is essential in the tobacco industry because each year more than 400,000 people die from tobacco-related illnesses in the United States, and many current smokers quit smoking, which means the tobacco companies need to attract a new generation of tobacco users to survive.  As a result, tobacco companies develop massive marketing campaigns that target certain segments of the population, such as women and children.  And despite marketing restrictions and the new Food and Drug Administration regulations, the industry has managed to continue its practice of promoting its products on a large scale.

Tobacco Company Advertising and Promotional Spending 1998-2012 (in Billions)

Source: Federal Trade Commission Reports for Cigarettes and Smokeless 2012,2015

Tobacco Industry Marketing Expenditures for Connecticut, 1998 - 2012 (in Millions)

Source: U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Cigarette Report for 2012, 2015

Youth Advertising

The tobacco industry has a long history of marketing its products to the youth population through advertising and promotion campaigns that appeal to their interests.  So it is no surprise that children and teenagers represent the majority of all new smokers.  In fact, each year there are nearly 400,000 new underage daily smokers in this country.  Children are exposed to tobacco advertising, promotion, and sponsorship through paid media, paid sports sponsorships, and at retail sports.  It is also not uncommon for tobacco companies to advertise near places where children frequent, such as schools and playgrounds.  Furthermore, the tobacco industry has also developed products which are very appealing to young people, such as flavored tobacco products which contain flavors like vanilla, orange, chocolate, and cherry, but like all tobacco products, flavored tobacco products have serious health risks and are not considered safe by the FDA.

Examples of marketing tactics tobacco companies use to target the youth include:

  • Advertising heavily at retail outlets near schools and playgrounds using large ads and signs clearly visible from outside the stores.
  • Sponsoring schools, school programs, and special events
  • Placing cigarette ads at children’s eye level.
  • Advertising in popular youth-oriented magazines
  • Sponsoring sports with a large youth fan base. (i.e. soccer, cricket)
  • Advertising near schools using large billboards depicting glamorized images of tobacco use
  • Placing tobacco products in prominent movies for the youth audience

Women and Girls

The tobacco industry also has a long history of developing cigarette brands and marketing campaigns that target women and girls. These campaigns are designed to convey messages of social desirability and independence through advertisements that feature slim, attractive, and athletic models.  In fact, several cigarette brands have been exclusively developed for women, including Virginia Slims, Eve, Misty, and Capri. The tobacco industry has also targeted women through innovative promotional campaigns offering discounts on common household items unrelated to tobacco. For example, Philip Morris has offered discounts on turkeys, milk, soft drinks, and laundry detergent with the purchase of tobacco products.

Previous marketing campaigns have had a devastating impact on women's health.  The nation's latest cancer statistics, released in December 2008, showed that while lung cancer death rates are decreasing for men — and overall cancer death rates are decreasing for both men and women — lung cancer death rates have yet to decline for women.

Racial and Ethnic Populations

An advertisement promoting menthol cigarettes to African-Americans.

The tobacco companies have also marketed their products specifically to racial and ethnic populations, especially in low-income areas. Marketing to Hispanics and American Indians/Alaska Natives has included advertising and promotion of cigarette brands with names such as Rio, Dorado, and American Spirit.  The tobacco industry has also sponsored events celebrating racial/ethnic pride and culture such as rodeos, dance companies, parades, festivals, and also activities relating to national heritage month observances. 

Targeting African American Communities

For decades, tobacco companies have targeted the African American community in their advertising efforts.  In fact, the amount of advertising used in predominately African American communities is disproportionately higher than the amount of advertising used in predominately white communities.  Also, tobacco companies have exploited the fact that African Americans prefer menthol cigarettes by directly marketing the product to the community.  Menthol cigarettes are 30% of overall cigarette market but 70% of all cigarettes sold to African Americans.  As a result, expenditures for magazine advertising of mentholated cigarettes, popular with African Americans, increased from 13 percent of total ad expenditure in 1998 to 76% in 2006. 

Due to these marketing tactics, African Americans suffer disproportionately from smoking-caused chronic and preventable diseases, and each year approximately 45,000 African Americans die from smoke-related illnesses.

Bans on Tobacco

Comprehensive bans on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship are very effective at reducing tobacco use, especially among young people. Partial advertising bans, such as restrictions on billboards are less effective and provide opportunities for tobacco companies to find new ways to market their products.

Article 13 of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) requires parties to the treaty to implement and enforce a comprehensive ban on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship within five years of FCTC ratification.