After Bans, Tobacco Tries Direct Marketing For decades, tobacco companies advertised on TV, radio, billboards and magazine pages. When the 1998 tobacco settlement put an end to that, they began targeting smokers online and in person. Now the industry spends twice as much on marketing as it did 10 years ago.
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After Bans, Tobacco Tries Direct Marketing

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After Bans, Tobacco Tries Direct Marketing

After Bans, Tobacco Tries Direct Marketing

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From NPR News, this is All Things Considered. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Melissa Block. 10 years ago, the tobacco industry agreed to do away with some of its most famous advertising icons.

Mr. BOB BUTTERWORTH (Former Attorney General, Florida): The Marlboro Man will be riding into the sunset on Joe Camel.

BLOCK: That's Bob Butterworth. He was Florida's attorney general back in 1998 at the time of the multibillion-dollar tobacco settlement. States got $246 billion in exchange for dropping lawsuits against big tobacco over the public health costs of smoking. Tobacco companies also agreed to change their ways. This week, NPR's Debbie Elliott is reporting on the impact of the settlement today, how cigarette marketing has changed.

DEBBIE ELLIOTT: For decades, tobacco companies used cartoon characters to sell cigarettes.

(Soundbite of ad for cigarettes)

Unidentified Actor: (As Rocky) Hi yah, Mr. Flintstone.

Mr. ALAN REED: (As Fred Flinstone) Greetings, Rocky, my boy. Pack of Winston, please?

Unidentified Actor: (As Rocky) Oh, you like them Winston cigarettes, huh Mr. Flintstone?

Mr. REED: (As Fred Flinstone) But of course, they really got something.

Unidentified Actor: (As Rocky) You bet you're right.

ELLIOTT: During the 1960s, the Flintstones were sponsored by Winston, and Fred himself sang the jingle.

Mr. FLINTSTONE: (Singing) Winston tastes good like a cigarette should.

ELLIOTT: If you were too young to smoke Winstons, no problem. There were Flintstones candy cigarettes as well.

Dr. ALAN BLUM (Director, Center for the Study of Tobacco and Society, University of Alabama): With Wilma on one pack, the pink pack, and Barney here, he's got the menthol pack because it's green. And it says Stone Age Candy Cigarettes.

ELLIOTT: Alan Blum is showing me around his vast tobacco marketing archive at the Center for the Study of Tobacco and Society at the University of Alabama. A family physician, Blum has spent his career documenting how, for generations, the tobacco industry made smoking appealing. It's an issue he's been attuned to since he was a child.

Dr. BLUM: My father was a family doctor. And when we would be watching the Dodgers games from Brooklyn, he would get very upset, and I found out that he was upset because in the background, you could see the billboard for Lucky Strikes. If you were a Dodgers fan, you were for Luckies. If you were for the Giants, you were a Chesterfield smoker. If you were for the New York Yankees, you were for Camels.

ELLIOTT: You don't see tobacco advertised on billboards anymore or on taxicabs and buses. Sport sponsorships have been limited, and cigarette companies can't use cartoon characters or give away brand-named merchandise like t-shirts and back packs. Those marketing restrictions were part of the $246 billion tobacco settlement with states.

Broadcast ads had been banned by Congress in 1971. And the 10 years since the tobacco settlement, smoking rates have dropped by five percentage points to just under 20 percent. But Alan Blum doesn't see the deal as a watershed in the tobacco wars. He's critical of states for not using the money to fight smoking, instead funding other projects.

Dr. BLUM: To play this is as some kind of victory over Big Tobacco overlooks what it really did and didn't do. It was a money grab. It was a shift of money away from tobacco companies and into the hands of the states. It's made the states partners with the tobacco companies, and it's an abomination.

ELLIOTT: A lead negotiator of the deal, former Mississippi Attorney General Mike Moore, defends the agreement. He says, if nothing else, the state lawsuits brought to light that tobacco companies knew that cigarettes were deadly and addictive. Still, he acknowledges the industry is a formidable opponent, especially when it comes to creating a market.

Mr. MIKE MOORE (Former Mississippi Attorney General): They're all over the place. They have other ways to do it. They're coming out with new products. They'll find a way to sell their product. I mean, addiction is what they sell. I mean, it's an amazing process. Think about it. You sell a product. People get hooked on it. They have to have it. You're in business forever.

(Soundbite of music)

ELLIOT: The companies are barred from sponsoring concerts. But here on the Web, Philip Morris sponsors an American Idol-like band contest in a promotion called "The Best of Marlboro Country Music." Since the settlement, tobacco firms have found new ways to reach customers. There are promotions in night clubs, on college campuses, on the Internet, and at the stores where you buy cigarettes.

Mr. BILL PHELPS (Spokesman, Atria): It's evolved to a more focused, direct one-to-one approach.

ELLIOTT: Bill Phelps is a spokesman for Atria, the parent company of Philip Morris, the world's top cigarette-maker.

Mr. PHELPS: Our database has more than 25 million names on it. Those are adults who already smoke and have said, I want to be on your database and receive information from you about your cigarette brands.

ELLIOT: It all starts at

Mr. PHELPS: And it enables us to verify who somebody is, who's trying to sign up on the database to make sure they are who they say they are, and they are an adult. So why won't we sign up Debbie Elliot? Let's type in your name here.

ELLIOTT: He opens a window, fills in a few questions, date of birth, whether I'm a smoker, and what brand I prefer.

Mr. PHELPS: Your mailing address?

ELLIOTT: 635 Massachusetts Avenue Northwest. I've given him NPR's address. And the system sends up a red flag.

Mr. PHELPS: We were unable to confirm your age using the address as you entered. Was that your address?

ELLIOTT: It was my office address.

Mr. PHELPS: We needed your home address. And the system found that that was not your home address.

ELLIOTT: Philip Morris uses this smart database to target smokers for discount coupons, even chances to win a vacation in what Phelps calls experiential programs.

Mr. PHELPS: Marlboro brand is very often associated with Marlboro Country and the great outdoors in the West. And we own a ranch, and Marlboro smokers have the opportunity to win an opportunity to visit that ranch and kind of experience Marlboro Country.

ELLIOTT: Marlboro now has a record 41.8 percent share of the U.S. cigarette market, up from 33.8 percent a decade ago when the settlement was signed. Overall, tobacco companies spend more than $13 billion a year on advertising and promotions, nearly double what they did in 1998.

As the industry strategy has evolved, it's getting pushed back from a national anti-smoking foundation created by the settlement and funded by Big Tobacco. Companies were forced to put $1.7 billion over the last 10 years into the American Legacy Foundation. President Cheryl Healton says the group targets teens with a unique counter-marketing campaign.

Ms. CHERYL HEALTON (President, American Legacy Foundation): We try to make it possible for young people to rebel by rejecting Big Tobacco as opposed to rebel by becoming a smoker.

(Soundbite of traffic noise)

ELLIOTT: In this television ad, a cowboy rides into New York City traffic on a white horse, pulls a bandanna from his neck, revealing a big hole that he then sings through.

(Soundbite of commercial)

Unidentified Man: (Singing) You don't always die from tobacco. Sometimes, you just lose a lung. Oh, you don't always die from tobacco. Sometimes, they just snip out your tongue.

ELLIOTT: The tag line reads, knowledge is contagious. In another ad, teenagers dump 1,200 body bags outside a cigarette company's offices to emphasize how many people die every day from tobacco-related disease. The edgy messages are effective, but Healton concedes the foundation's annual budget, $55 million, is dwarfed by Big Tobacco's resources.

Ms. HEALTON: That sounds like a lot of money, $55 million, but when you consider the fact that the tobacco industry spends about $36 million every day marketing its product in the U.S. alone, our Truth campaign by, for example, is roughly equal to one day of their marketing effort. And so, it's truly a David versus Goliath battle.

ELLIOTT: But, she adds, we have the truth on our side. Debbie Elliott, NPR News.

BLOCK: You can watch a video about the history of Philip Morris' ad campaigns at Tomorrow, Debbie Elliott's series of reports continues on Morning Edition with a story about the future of the cigarette.

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