Collection: Lorillard Tobacco Company
Anti-smoking ads are produced by a variety of sponsors and sources, including public health organizations, large corporations, and grassroots efforts. However, a particularly notable sponsor of anti-smoking advertisements is the tobacco industry itself.
After a settlement between Big Tobacco and state attorneys in 1997, the tobacco industry was forced to contribute $500 million a year to anti-smoking efforts. The 1998 Tobacco Master Settlement also limited the tobacco industry’s marketing practices by regulating sponsorships, lobbying, and ad placements and restricting all efforts that seemed to target youth. The settlement forced Big Tobacco to release their internal documents, now available online, which revealed that the industry directly and deliberately targets young audiences to ensure their consumer base continues to be replaced as veteran smokers die due to smoking-related diseases. In the midst of these political tensions, Lorillard Tobacco Company and Philip Morris, two of the largest tobacco companies in the United States, launched their own anti-smoking campaigns that seemingly sought to reduce smoking in youth populations. However, the true motivations of these campaigns are questionable.
Philip Morris launched its “Think. Don’t Smoke” anti-smoking campaign in 1998. The campaign primarily targeted 10-14-year-olds. This campaign consisted of print and video ads that both addressed teens specifically and encouraged adults to talk to their children about smoking. Philip Morris’s slogan, “Think. Don’t Smoke,” suggests that smoking is not an intelligent act and that resisting the social pressures is as simple as thinking about it and just saying, “No.”
Lorillard’s anti-smoking campaign was launched in 2000 and had messages similar to Philip Morris’s campaign. It also sought to persuade teens that smoking was not an important part of their social image and gave parents advice on how to talk to their children about smoking. Their campaign used out-of-date vernacular in its slogan, “Tobacco is Whacko”.
Both Philip Morris’s and Lorillard’s campaigns have been shown to be ineffective in changing youth attitudes towards smoking because they employ several strategies that distance teens rather than connect with them. Both campaigns promote individual choice as a method to avoid smoking. Studies using focus groups have shown that this type of message is one of the least persuasive, especially when the choice to smoke is emphasized without giving a reason to choose not smoking (1). The messages generate low emotional engagement among their audiences, which results in less recall, receptivity, and awareness than other campaigns that show either the health consequences of smoking or promote counter-industry sentiments (1).
Messages that attempt to convince teens that smoking is an irrelevant part of a their social image are also ineffective because they often do not portray the social scene accurately, which causes the ads to lose their credibility. Lorillard’s slogan “Tobacco is Whacko” is one (likely purposeful) failure to understand the teen social sphere. The term “Whacko” is used by the advertisers as a slang word that is supposed to better connect with teens, but it is actually rarely used among this population and instead teens are even less likely to relate to the ad (2, 3). Indeed, it is likely that the advertising agents knew that “whacko” would sound like an adult trying to speak to children – setting up the campaign to be rejected by young people.
Not only are these tobacco industry-sponsored ads not effective, but they have actually been shown to increase positive attitudes towards smoking and the tobacco industry. First of all, they emphasize that smoking is inappropriate and unappealing only if you are a teen. Many teens smoke as an act of rebellion, and by restricting smoking as an adult-only activity, the appeal of smoking is only heightened (4). Teens are also motivated by the promise of attractiveness and an improved social image, and by stating that smoking should only be avoided when you are young, it implies that all promises of sex appeal and charm seen in tobacco advertisements still applies when you are an adult (5). There is no fine line between when an adolescent becomes an adult, and for many teens, engaging in adult activities, which include smoking, can be seen as a rite of passage.
With the restrictions on tobacco companies to cease advertising to teens and the apparent ineffectiveness of the Philip Morris and Lorillard’s anti-smoking campaigns, it is hard to believe the companies’ primary concern is to reduce smoking in that population. It is possible that the industry’s main purpose of spending such an excessive amount on a campaign that would appear to be counter-productive for them is to build their reputation; the campaigns can be seen as a massive public relations move to restore the tobacco industry’s image in the public eye. A 1995 internal Philip Morris document quoted Ellen Merlo, Philip Morris’s senior vice president of corporate affairs: “If we don’t do something fast to project the sense of industry responsibility regarding the youth access issue, we are going to be looking at severe marketing restrictions in a very short time. Those restrictions will pave the way for equally severe legislation or regulation on where adults are allowed to smoke” (6). Merlo’s admission that PM was simply trying to “project the sense of industry responsibility” speaks volumes as to the industry’s true intentions in its anti-tobacco campaigns.
1. Schar E, Gutierrez K, Murphy-Hoefer R, Nelson DE. Tobacco Use Prevention Media Campaigns: Lessons Learned from Youth in Nine Countries. Atlanta: US Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Office on smoking and Health; 2006.
2. Biener L. Anti-tobacco advertisements by Massachusetts and Philip Morris: what teenagers think. Tobacco Control 2002; 11: ii43-ii46.
3. Pechmann C, Reibling ET. Antismoking Advertisements for Youths: An Independent Evaluation of Health, Counter-Industry, and Industry Approaches. Am J Public Health 2006; 96(5): 906-913.
4. Aloise-Young PA, Hennigan KM, Graham JW. Role of the Self-Image and Smoker Stereotype in Smoking Onset During Early Adolescence: A Longitudinal Study. Health Psychology 1996; 15(6): 494-497.
5. Barton J, Chassin L, Presson CC, Sherman SJ. Social Image Factors as Motivators of Smoking Initiation in Early and Middle Adolescence. Child Development 1982; 53(6): 1499-1511.
6. Novelli WD. “Don’t smoke,” buy Marlboro. British Medical Journal 1999; 318(7193): 1296.