Everyone that’s worth their smoke in the tobacco industry knows that the only way to keep revenue growing is to replace your clientele—who die or quit—with fresh consumers. Since almost 90 percent of adult smokers take up the habit in adolescence—the industry refers to young people as the “replacement generation”—they’re the main target of marketing campaigns. One effective way they’ve targeted young people is to equate tobacco products with sweets and to mask the taste of tobacco with sweets flavors.
In the Beginning There Was Candy
According to Old Time Candy, the maker of candy cigarettes, the first candy cigarettes were developed with help of the cigarette manufacturers, who allowed overt copyright infringements for over thirty years. By doing so, it allowed youngsters to become familiar with the brand and packaging, and normalized the act of smoking. The package below is the original candy cigarettes, mimicking a pack of Camels.
Photo source: oldtimecandy.com
After the companies came under fire for marketing to youth, they tried to distance themselves and their labels from the candy companies. Candy cigarette manufacturers changed their labels, though they still bear overt similarities to real brands of cigarettes. Candy cigarettes are now called candy “stix” of candy, but still have a red end simulating a lit cigarette, and still use words like “king size,” “longs,” and “lights.” They evoke much of the same imagery and use the same colors as actual cigarette brands. The packaging, names, and descriptors on the candy cigarettes below all mimic real cigarettes.
Photo source: cardhouse.com
But many of us puffed sugar while never becoming smokers—do the candy cigarettes really have an impact on future smoking? A study done at the University of Rochester School of Medicine found that they do. Among adult current and former smokers, 22 percent had consumed candy cigarettes often or very often as children, compared with 14 percent who never smoked. The authors conclude that candy cigarettes desensitize kids about future smoking and allow them to recognize and respond to marketing and branding.
The U.K., Australia, and Canada regulate the sale of candy “stix.” The U.S. does not.
Then Came Flavor Pellets
Out of the candy cigarette business, the industry began to find new ways to associate their products with sweets. Realizing that the taste of cigarettes can be off-putting to first timers, Camel came out with a new line of flavored cigarettes in 1999, which mimic candy flavors. With a flavor pellet lodged near the filter, they include watermelon (Beach Breezer), coconut (Kuai Kolada), mint (Winter Mochamint), berry (Bayou Berry), and lime (Twista Lime). Their flavors mimic those in candy and their rise to popularity came in 2004, when advertisements like the ones below appeared in youth-friendly magazines such as Rolling Stone, Sports Illustrated, and Glamour.
Photo source: tobaccofreekids.org
Though RJ Reynolds claims that these cigarettes are alternatives for adult smokers (what else are they gonna say?), evidence indicates otherwise. A study by the Roswell Park Cancer Institute found that teens are three times more likely to smoke flavored cigarettes than adult smokers are. And it’s no surprise—established smokers rarely switch brands. The sweet ones are for the pink-lunged.
In addition, advertisement recall has been shown to influence smoking initiation, and these brightly colored ads are particularly appealing to youngsters. A 2007 study by the American Legacy Foundation found that 40 percent of thirteen- to eighteen-year-olds recalled seeing flavored cigarette advertisements. More than half were interested in trying them, and 60 percent thought they would taste better than regular cigarettes. And the kids may be right: the flavors do mask the harsh taste of tobacco, making it easier for them to start, and continue, smoking.
Of course, the original flavored cigarette is the menthol, which is aggressively marketed to the black community, especially urban black youth. Menthols are often equated with hip-hop and DJing, as evidenced in this ad.
Photo source: tobaccofreekids.org
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 64 percent of African-American high school students who smoke use mentholated brands.
In addition to cigarettes, candy-flavored cigarillos, or little cigars like the ones below, are designed to appeal to teens and young adults.
It’s funny that they advertise these as “blunts,” which, according to the dictionary, means it has been hollowed out and filled with marijuana. How come bongs have to be disguised as water pipes, but the tobacco industry gets to market their marijuana paraphernalia so openly? I’m not saying weed should necessarily be illegal, but … ain’t it?
Photo source: smokes-spirits.com
The good news (for the tobacco industry) is that targeted marketing works. A recent survey by the city of Baltimore found that, among eighteen- to twenty-four-year-olds, the favorite brand of cigars was Black and Mild (parent company: Phillip Morris) which offer such flavors as cream, apple, and vanilla. Twenty-four percent had smoked them in the previous thirty days.
This resulted in Baltimore banning the sale of individual cigarillos, which sell for under a dollar apiece and, as singles, come without the surgeon general’s warning. Not that “cigars are not a safe alternative to cigarettes” is necessarily going to deter an eighteen-year-old.
The End of Sweet Cigarettes?
A bill pending in Congress would give, for the first time, the Food and Drug Administration authority to regulate tobacco products. Included in this bill is banning the sale of flavored cigarettes. However, the bill doesn’t ban menthols, prompting objection from many anti-tobacco advocates in the African-American community.
And even so, that’s not likely to thwart the tobacco industry, that, according to the CDC, spends $35 million per day to recruit new consumers. Even if you don’t have kids, or are a smoker yourself, it behooves us all to look for ways to decrease the smoking prevalence; tobacco-related disease is the number one cause of preventable deaths in the U.S., and costs us (even the nonsmokers) billions in health-related economic losses. The tobacco companies reap billions in profits while our economy and health takes the hit—that’s hard to sugar coat.