“Tobacco use is a social phenomenon largely propelled by mass media over the last century, led by tobacco industry professionals who constantly change strategies to reach their goals.”
Dr. Tim Johnson, ABC News Medical Editor, August 2008
Stretching all the way back to the founding of the United States, tobacco has played a prominent role throughout American history. Before the arrival of European settlers, Native Americans used tobacco in religious practices. Early American farmers adopted tobacco as a lucrative staple crop, and the U.S. Capitol building even has tobacco leaves carved into its columns.
Over the last century, tobacco has evolved into a multibillion-dollar business fueled by an ever-changing arsenal of marketing activities. Tobacco companies have used every trick in the book – from free giveaways to physician endorsements to promises of magical weight loss – to hook the American public on their products.
Here are just a few of the tactics they’ve used:
• During WWI, WWII, the Korean War and the Vietnam War, U.S. soldiers received free cigarettes, often as part of their rations. Soldiers who survived these conflicts were left to deal with tobacco-related addiction and disease.
• Despite a Department of Defense ban on the practice, U.S. military personnel continued to receive free tobacco products during Middle Eastern conflicts during the 1990s and 2000s.
• In the 1930s, cigarettes were marketed as appetite suppressants using slogans such as ”Reach for a Lucky Instead of a Sweet.” The message was clear - cigarettes contribute to a positive body image for women.
• During the 1920s and 1960s, tobacco companies co-opted the women’s rights movement. They embedded themselves in freedom demonstrations and even created cigarettes designed solely for women. Virginia Slims, among others, are still popular with female customers to this day. As a result, between 1960 and 1990 lung cancer deaths among women increased by more than 400 percent - exceeding breast cancer deaths.
• To counter growing concerns about tobacco-related disease, the industry hired doctors and dentists to endorse their products. Using slogans like “Just What the Doctor Ordered,” and “More Doctors Smoke Camels,” tobacco companies attempted to quell public health concerns by showing physicians were also smokers.
Celebrity Endorsements and Cultural Icons
• In the 1930s and 1940s, tobacco companies used A-list movie stars to endorse certain brands of cigarettes. Later, cultural icons such as the Marlboro Man lured men with exaggerated fantasies of manliness and independence. Smokeless tobacco companies have used professional athletes to market their products. In a more recent trend cigar companies have invaded hip hop culture to promote their deadly products, especially targeting African Americans and youth. These tactics created a glamorized self-image in the minds of smokers, and tied that self-image directly to the use of tobacco.
Embedding Tobacco in Popular Culture
• Starting in the 1940s, tobacco companies began crafting lucrative deals to have their products featured in movies. Product placement and TV commercials soon became a favored industry tactic as well.
• Today, tobacco companies pay to have their cigarettes featured in popular video games.