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AHA Public Affairs/Coalition on Smoking OR Health Position

The American Heart Association, united with the American Lung Association and the American Cancer Society as the Coalition on Smoking OR Health, supports legislation that seeks to restrict or prohibit unregulated tobacco advertising, promotion and marketing to young people, minorities or women.

Background — Youth

The tobacco industry has long targeted young people with its cigarette advertising and promotional campaigns. The “Joe Camel” ad campaign initiated by the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. is testimony to the tobacco industry’s intent to reach young audiences. The “Joe Camel” magazine ads combine promotional pull-out sections, which offer “neon Camel signs,” “Joe Camel” leather jackets and “Joe’s feet flip flop sandals” in exchange for coupons from Camel cigarette packs. A young person would have to smoke up to 600 packs of Camels to receive some of the advertised promotions. Advertising and promotional campaigns aimed at young people continue despite the tobacco industry’s own voluntary code of advertising, adopted in 1964, which states that cigarette companies will not advertise in publications “that are directed primarily to persons under 21 years of age.”

The federal Office on Smoking and Health estimates that 3,000 young people begin smoking every day. According to the Final Report of the National Commission on Drug-Free Schools, children and adolescents consume more than one billion packs of cigarettes a year. Economist Kenneth Warner, Ph.D., estimates that the tobacco industry would need to recruit 5,000 new young smokers every day just to keep constant the total number of smokers (due to the number of people who quit or died from tobacco-related illness each year). The Department of Health and Human Services estimates that 90 percent of smokers begin tobacco use before age 20; 50 percent of smokers begin tobacco use by age 14; and 25 percent begin their smoking addiction by age 12 (the 6th grade). The most recent “United States Teenage Attitudes and Practices Survey” (TAPS), jointly sponsored by the Centers for Disease Control, the National Cancer Institute, and the American Cancer Society, found that 16 percent of 12–18-year-olds had smoked during the month prior to the survey.

Tobacco industry overseas advertising and promotion have also increased over the past few years in countries such as Thailand, Japan, Taiwan and most recently Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. According to the World Health Organization, if worldwide smoking rates among young people continue at their current pace, more than 200 million of today’s children and teenagers will be killed by tobacco during the second quarter of the next century.


During the last decade, the tobacco industry has aggressively increased its advertising and promotional campaigns targeted at minorities. One of the industry’s most notorious, and ultimately failed, minority cigarette marketing campaigns was for "“Uptown”" cigarettes. The Association and the Coalition on Smoking OR Health played an active role in the Philadelphia "“Coalition Against Uptown Cigarettes",” which brought health, consumer and social justice groups together to oppose the test marketing of Uptown in Philadelphia. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., the manufacturers of Uptown, eventually withdrew the product under pressure from the coalition and HHS Secretary Louis Sullivan, MD In addressing the issue of tobacco industry targeting of minorities, Dr. Sullivan said: "“At a time when our people desperately need the message of health promotion, the tobacco industry’s message is more disease, more suffering and more death for a group already bearing more than its share of smoking-related illnesses and mortality.” Former District of Columbia Health Commissioner Reed Tuckson defined the tobacco industry’s marketing practices as “the subjugation of people of color through disease.”"

Black-owned and black-oriented magazines receive proportionately more revenues from cigarette advertising than do other consumer magazines. In addition, stronger, mentholated brands are more commonly advertised in black-oriented than in white-oriented magazines. Billboards advertising tobacco products are placed in African-American communities four to five times more often than in white communities.

According to the National Coalition of Hispanic Health and Human Services Organizations, the tobacco industry specifically targets the Hispanic consumer because of the long-recognized “economic value of targeting advertising to low-income Hispanics and non-Hispanic blacks,” and because “Hispanics tend to be much more ‘brand-loyal’ than their non-Hispanic white counterparts.” The Hispanic coalition also concluded: “Billboards and posters targeting (the) cigarette message to Hispanics have spotted the landscape and store windows in Hispanic communities for many years, especially in low-income communities... Recent innovations have included sponsorship of community-based events such as festivals and annual fairs.”


More than 145,000 women die every year from smoking-related diseases. Lung cancer has become the leading cause of cancer death among women, having increased by nearly 400 percent in the past 20 years. That statistic led U.S. Surgeon General Antonia Novello to comment that "“the Virginia Slims Woman is catching up to the Marlboro Man.”"

Ironically, since the 1980 Surgeon General’s Report on women and smoking, the tobacco industry has stepped up the introduction of cigarette brands targeted to women. The new wave of marketing to women includes cigarettes advertised for their perfumed scents and exotic flavors or whose names include the terms "“slims"” and "“lights".” Product packaging and advertising has also featured watercolors and pastels.

One of the most egregious examples of the tobacco industry’s targeting of women was the introduction of “"Dakota"” by R.J. Reynolds in 1990. An internal Reynolds marketing plan revealed that Dakota was to be marketed to "“virile females"” between the ages of 18 and 24 who have no education beyond high school and who watch soap operas and attend tractor pulls. At a 1990 Interagency Committee on Smoking and Health meeting chaired by the Surgeon General, the Dakota marketing plan was called a “"deliberate focus on young women of low socioeconomic status who are at high risk of pregnancy."” The target market for Dakota also happens to be the one group of women where smoking rates have declined the least and who are more likely than other women to continue to smoke during pregnancy.

In addition to Philip Morris’ sponsorship of the Virginia Slims Tennis Tournament, tobacco companies also sponsor national ballet tours, fashion shows and underwrite programs such as the Congressional Fellowships on Women and Public Policy, sponsored by the Women’s Research and Education Institute. A recent study led by Kenneth Warner, Ph.D., also found that in general the probability of a magazine covering smoking and health decreased as the magazine’s revenues increased from cigarette advertising; that relationship was substantially larger in the case of women’s magazines.

See also in this Heart and Stroke Guide:

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