When the 1998 Master Settlement Agreement prohibited tobacco advertising to children under age 18, the tobacco industry intensified its marketing efforts towards 18-24 year olds. Perhaps not coincidentally, young adults are now the only age group in which smoking rates are rising rather than falling. Advertising in the college and alternative press and bar promotion which involve the distribution of free cigarettes are some of the ways in which the tobacco industry targets college-aged youth.

Tobacco’s Big Money and Big Influence:

  • By 1999, one year after the Master Settlement Agreement, tobacco companies increased spending on marketing by more than 20%, from $6.9 billion to $8.4 billion (FTC, 2001).
  • In 1999 alone the tobacco industry spent $335.7 million on promotional items such as t-shirts, sunglasses, and caps as well as another $33.7 million on free cigarette samples (FTC, 1999).
  • Young people are susceptible to tobacco advertising. Among teenagers, those who reported having a favorite tobacco ad, had received a tobacco promotional item, or who were willing to use a tobacco promotional item initiated smoking at a younger age (Bobo, 2000).

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Bar Promotions:

  • A Phillip Morris document reads:
    “A key factor in the success of Marlboro advertising has been its consistent targeting of 18-24 year old men…. By targeting communications at the club/disco/bar environment (eg. Sampling) …. PM successfully builds up brand loyalty at an early stage (Katz, 2002). This strategy is especially effective because young adults are more likely than older adults to attend bars and clubs on a regular basis.
  • In 1999, the tobacco industry spent $33.7 million on free cigarettes (FTC, 2001).
  • Bar promotions are used to “develop a database of younger adult smokers for follow up direct marketing activities” (Katz, 2002). This direct marketing might include mailings and emails that could reach students at their campus mail and email addresses.
  • Tobacco companies promote their products in bars because of the impact of social influence on behavior. Since bars are considered “smoker-friendly” young adults are more inclined to smoke in bars than elsewhere, in order to fit in with the social context. The tobacco industry understands that bars are one of the places that young people might take up smoking (Katz, 2002).
  • Some promotions reportedly target bars close to university campuses to maximize access to potential young smokers (Katz, 2002).
  • Phillip Morris documents reveal that proposals for bar and nightclub promotions would help them compete for the business of “entry-level” smokers (Sepe, 2002).
  • Tobacco companies have drastically increased advertising in the alternative press, which has very heavy young adult readership. From 1994-1999 the number of tobacco ads increased from under ten advertisements in a year to over 300. Over half of these advertisements were for tobacco-sponsored bar and nightclub promotional events (Sepe, 2002).
  • A recent study suggests that attendance at a tobacco industry-sponsored event at a bar, nightclub, or campus party was associated with higher smoking rates among college students. Students who attended promotional events were more likely than those that did not to be current smokers or current users of any tobacco product. These students were also more likely to have smoked cigarettes or used a tobacco product within the last year (Rigotti, 2004).

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Targeting College Students Where They Live and Work:

  • Tobacco companies host promotional events at fraternities and sororities, where free samples, coupons, and paraphernalia are distributed to an exclusively collegiate audience. One survey shows that only about half of fraternities and sororities have regulations about the type of companies from which they will or will not accept donations or sponsorships (ALF, 2002).
  • Tobacco companies recruit employees on college campuses. Large tobacco companies such as Phillip Morris are often featured at college career and internship fairs (ALF, 2002).

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