Marketing tobacco to youth

June 9, 2014




Perhaps the most frightening aspects of Big Tobacco, besides the well-documented effects of nicotine addiction, are its emerging tobacco products. At the 6th Annual Rural Tobacco Summit, Barry Hummel, Jr., MD, presented tobacco marketing tactics and product lines that are targeted toward youth.

“Tobacco is a gateway drug and a gateway behavior,” said Hummel, co-founder of the Quit Doc Research and Education Foundation. “[Tobacco] is the first drug that teens can access easily. The tobacco industry knows this, and deliberately targets youth with products and marketing.”

Flavored candy cigarettes popularized in the 1950s served to normalize the behavior of smoking and familiarize children with cigarette packaging and mannerisms. In the early 2000s, the introduction of flavored tobacco cigarettes from brands like Camel had deceptive, candy-like packaging.

“Buyers and sellers don’t know what product is inside,” Hummel said. “They became a point of entry for kids.”

In 2009, the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act was signed into law and the FDA banned the sale of flavored tobacco products (with the exception of menthol). The FDA, however, does not regulate cigars. As a result, cigarette companies repackaged products to resemble cigars to be exempt from the “flavor” rule. Flavored cigars continue to be very popular among smokers. Flavored smokeless tobacco is also currently being market tested in candy-like packaging. Hookah and e-cigarettes have also adapted flavors to increase their appeal to young smokers. According to the 2012 Florida Youth Tobacco Survey, over 59 percent of youth tobacco users in the state are using flavored tobacco.

E-cigarette companies have begun to market themselves as the alternative to tobacco cigarettes. Ads ask, “Why Quit?” and list indoor places were people can still smoke with their products.

“E-cigarettes are marketed as safe, creating harmless water vapor,” which Hummel said is simply not the case. The products typically contain nicotine and are not safe for youth or adult consumption.

Many countries have banned their sale including Australia, Canada and Brazil. High school use throughout the U.S., on the other hand, has doubled within the past 2 years. Its prevalence in convenience stores and advertisements throughout the U.S. have led to a youth perception of tobacco use that is greater than reality, Hummel said. He performed a study with Martin County middle school students asking them to predict tobacco usage in the U.S. The students guessed that 61 percent of adults are smokers and the actual statistic is 20 percent.

Age disparity between legal tobacco and alcohol use makes these products more attractive to college students and young adults. Teenagers can legally buy tobacco products at the age of 18 whereas the age limit on alcohol is 21.

“E-cigarettes and hookahs are the two biggest threats,” Hummel said.

The summit, sponsored by Suwannee River AHEC, Lake Shore Hospital and North Central Florida Cancer Control Collaborative (NCFCCC), was held in April 2014. Oversight and leadership of NCFCCC is provided by WellFlorida Council.

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By Nicole Martins, WellFlorida Intern

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