Tobacco industry’s tactics

Tobacco use is a social phenomenon largely propelled by mass media over the past century, led by tobacco
industry professionals who constantly change strategies to reach their goals.
They combine the resourcefulness of a profit-making industry with a changing media and regulatory landscape
to sell a product that remains our greatest public health challenge. We will not remove tobacco from our
society unless we are willing to understand the industry’s constantly changing tactics.
— Dr. Tim Johnson, ABC News Medical Editor, August 2008


Just because tobacco products aren’t advertised on American television or billboards or in ballparks anymore, it’s easy to think the tobacco industry has scaled back its efforts to attract and keep its customers. Nothing could be further from the truth. The hallmark of the tobacco industry is its ability to adapt to restrictions placed on it and its products. The tobacco industry focuses on five strategies:

1 Making tobacco use a part of our cultural landscape. By making tobacco part of mainstream American culture, the industry makes its products more acceptable and accessible. And products that are seen as an integral part of American life are much harder to regulate or campaign against.

2 Using targeted marketing campaigns. Creating campaigns for specific groups has been an important strategy for tobacco companies. Men, women, youth, young adults and minorities are all targeted with specific messages and products from the tobacco industry.

3 Launching public relations campaigns. The tobacco industry spends billions on community giving to improve its public image. It has even funded campaigns alleging to help tobacco users—its own customers—quit smoking. Through these efforts, tobacco companies position themselves as “good corporate citizens,” but such tactics also insulate them from criticisms and regulations.

4 Reinventing itself and its products to adapt to a changing landscape. New, addictive products are being developed in response to social and cultural changes, such as smoke-free laws and health concerns about cigarettes.

5 Creating spheres of influence beyond the United States. As the tobacco market in the United States has declined due to increasing public awareness and legal restrictions, the industry has set its sights on the developing world. Strategies that are no longer tolerated in the United States are now at work in these countries, where knowledge of tobacco’s health impacts is not yet widespread.

Again and again, these strategies have been executed to the benefit of the industry’s bottom line and to the detriment of health. This report provides an unfiltered look at how tobacco companies have ingrained themselves into our culture and gives new examples of how they are targeting nonsmokers and young people and keeping existing customers hooked. Despite decades of momentum in lowering smoking rates, we must still be vigilant about the tobacco industry’s changing tactics. With this report, we hope to start a conversation about a problem that increasingly is hidden in plain sight.

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