2 July 2004
David Simpson and Stan Shatenstein survey the dubious means employed by tobacco companies to get their message across.
Cigarette advertising is ubiquitous – even in countries whose politicians thought they had banned it. To keep people smoking, and especially to get children and adolescents to start, the tobacco industry must emit a constant barrage of enticements associating cigarettes with success, glamour, excitement, a carefree lifestyle – as far removed as you can get from cancer, heart and chest disease. In 2001 the industry spent an astonishing $11.2 billion, more than $30 million a day, on advertising and promotional expenses in the US alone.
All cigarettes are basically the same: tubes of chopped dried leaves of a particular species of plant, wrapped in paper, intended to be lit and the resulting smoke inhaled. So the fact that the same product can be rugged and macho in one brand but slim and feminine in another is almost entirely due to advertising. Tobacco companies argue that they need advertising to communicate important information to their customers. But there is virtually no worthwhile information in tobacco advertising.
Tobacco companies love to say that smoking is only for adults and that they never aim ads at children. However, their own internal papers show they know they must hook kids (‘starters') if they want a future market. Little is more enticing to a rebellious adolescent than forbidden fruit with an ‘ adult' tag. The companies' recent forays into ‘youth education', as part of multi-million-dollar PR image reinvention and ‘social responsibility' campaigns, have been shown to be worse than useless.
For more than three decades governments have been trying to restrict tobacco promotion, but anything short of a total ban doesn't work. Take sports sponsorship, developed in response to governments banning ads that link cigarettes with sporting fitness and success. Tobacco companies became among the largest sponsors of sport. This relationship confuses health messages, neutralizes a range of important potential allies for public health – including sports organizations, athletes and politicians – and perpetuates the most dangerously misleading of all associations for smoking.
Another promotional ploy is ‘brand stretching', where tobacco companies use the name, colours and logo of a cigarette brand on other products that do not have advertising restrictions, such as Marlboro Classics clothing and Camel boots and accessories.
Canada: Cigarette girls, girls, girls
‘Gold Club' cigarette girls in dance clubs promote the colours and, particularly, the product – Benson & Hedges in the internationally-known black and gold packs – despite a Canadian ban on lifestyle advertising. The industry argument is that the cigarette girls are ‘points-of-sale'. Big Tobacco makes a hard case over soft points.
Physicians for a Smoke-Free Canada
Jamaica: Blowing smoke in the (empty) stands
While their nervous coaches are often seen puffing on the touchline, footballers themselves are mainly smoke free. That doesn't stop the tobacco industry from appealing to youth by sponsoring local and national leagues. In Jamaica, leading manufacturer Carreras has for decades sponsored the National Premier League and the Carreras Sportsman and Sportswoman of the Year awards. With new legislation proposing a total ban on tobacco advertising, promotions and sponsorships likely to be introduced in Parliament during the 2004/2005 session, Carreras was expected to withdraw from the playing pitch. However, the Ministry of Finance and Planning expressed fears about the ‘negative effect on budgetary provisions in respect of community-based objectives'. Translation: Carreras will play on.
Peru: Boob job
Using the universal language of sex, the Ducal cigarette company advertises ‘lucky cigarettes' – finding one of these in a pack gives you the right to claim 10 free. Hamilton, another cigarette company in Peru promotes a sportier image – using icons of health such as David Beckham and Michael Jordan to sell their wares.
Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids http://www.tobaccofreekids.org/
Brazil: Clouding the issue
Anvisa, the agency responsible for monitoring and enforcing Brazil's tobacco control legislation, recently ordered Souza Cruz, Brazilian subsidiary of BAT, to remove its ‘Smoking point' from the airport in Rio de Janeiro. The structure, erected by Souza Cruz and the airport management company, was a ventilated smokers' stand in the otherwise smoke-free airport. The stand didn't provide the ventilation it promised. Souza Cruz also violated marketing regulations by displaying its logo on the equipment, and placing user questionnaires inside the booth.
Netherlands: Make ‘em laugh, make ‘em cough
Lucky Strike strikes out to conquer the Netherlands. Butt seriously, folks – the smoke's on you.
Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids http://www.tobaccofreekids.org/
Romania: Bright idea
When Central and Eastern European countries first switched to Western-style market economies, the big tobacco companies moved in fast. One early stroke of marketing opportunism seen in Bucharest was when all the amber lenses of the city centre traffic lights became Camel ads, signalling all go for Big Tobacco.
Senegal: Starting young
When cigarette-branded gear on child-sized clothing like this is brought to the attention of tobacco companies, they are usually forced to stop unauthorized use of their brand name. But they are such favourites for illicit copying because of the saturation coverage their brands get in many poorer countries.
Uzbekistan: Company rules
In 1999, when BAT produced this glossy ‘youth education' brochure, the Ministry of Health had a tobacco programmes co-ordinator – but with no budget. WHO representatives visiting the country heard allegations of an ‘agreement' between BAT and the Ministry limiting government anti-smoking measures.
Pakistan: Glamour and PR
Pakistan Tobacco Company (PTC), local subsidiary of BAT, has had an almost totally free hand to convey exciting, glamorous messages for its lethal products to young people – such as this ad showing a suave young man with a macho Western car. In parallel, BAT has also been increasing its self-promotion as a benefactor, including an ad about a fleet of mobile health dispensaries ‘that reach out to patients in far-flung places who need medical attention.' In one ad a doctor measures the blood pressure of an elderly patient while another listens to the chest of a younger patient with an oxygen mask over his face. One can imagine what this does to the blood pressure of doctors whose clinics are packed with real patients suffering life-threatening diseases caused by smoking.
Philippines: Pray for health
In the Philippines, with a large and devout Catholic population, various wall calendars tout popular tobacco brands. This one is from the Fortune Tobacco Company. Should smokers pray for good fortune or good health? And should they use their votive candles to light their cigarettes?
Thailand: There’s a Camel in the doorway
Coming soon to a store near you! Thailand has excellent tobacco-control legislation, keeping advertising out of newspapers and off TV. But the industry is not averse to a bit of brand stretching – as shown here in this store which sells outdoor clothing and gear, all bearing and promoting the Camel name.
Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids / Ross Hammond http://www.tobaccofreekids.org/
Malaysia: Isn’t it ironic?
Canadian singer Alanis Morrissette first became internationally famous for a song titled ‘Isn't it ironic?' in which, ironically, the situations she summoned up were not, in fact, ironic. It wouldn't be ironic either to point out that her Malaysian concerts promote (and are promoted by) Japan Tobacco's Salem cigarettes. But it is disturbing.
Many of the images reproduced here are courtesy of Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. See their entire selection at http://www.tobaccofreekids.org
This article is from
the July 2004 issue
of New Internationalist.
You can access the entire archive of over 500 issues with a digital subscription.
Subscribe today »
Help us keep this site free for all
New Internationalist is a lifeline for activists, campaigners and readers who value independent journalism. Please support us with a small recurring donation so we can keep it free to read online.
Support us »