Nix on Nicotine

Keywords: quit smoking, freedom from tobacco, anti-tobacco, smoking cessation, smoking deterrence, nicotine addiction

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Marketing Tobacco to Kids

I visited my local King Soopers grocery store recently, and paused to observe the tobacco display that I walk past every time I’m in the store.  The large, well-lit glass-front case extends from about 7 feet down to about 18 inches off the floor – placing the colorful cigarette packages at eye-level for any child old enough to walk.  But that’s not all!  Immediately adjacent to the tobacco case is a 25-cent gumball machine and the penny-per-ride “horsie.”  Could this be an accident or oversight on the part of management?

Feeling more than just a little curious, I asked the manager on duty about the display, pointing out the eye-level placement of the tobacco and the nearby child-magnets.  He smiled pleasantly and nodded as I spoke, but offered no suggestion that things could or would be changed. 

Tobacco companies rely on community retail partners to help them sell tobacco to children.  They know that almost no one starts smoking as an adult:  more than 90% of smokers become addicted before the age of 18, some starting as early as 8 years old.  Getting children hooked on nicotine is key to big tobacco’s ongoing profitability.

Here are just a few of the underhanded strategies they use:
  • Offering smokeless tobacco products (“dip” or “chew”) in self-serve displays near candy, gum, and snacks; these products are offered in enticing fruit, mint, and other flavors that appeal to children.
  • Displaying tobacco products within easy reach of children, and reimbursing store owners for losses due to shoplifting.
  • Placing signs at kid eye-level with cartoon-drawings, purportedly to forbid underage tobacco use, but actually to enhance the perception that tobacco is “grown up” and underage use is rebellious or defiant. 
  • Offering toys (again placed at kid eye-level) as premiums with tobacco purchases to cause kids to “lobby” their parents into buying the tobacco product so that they get the toy.
  • Displaying tobacco in movies and television programs, particularly in PG-13 movies, of which more than 80% show tobacco use.
Recently revealed in documents produced by Big Tobacco under Court order is the euphemism they use for the 12 to 18-year age group:  “Replacement Smokers.”


  1. Lady, it's parents responsibility to teach kids values and healthy living. What exactly is your point? Raise children in Disneyland.? Get a grip and welcome to the real world.

  2. Sorry you missed the point, Jon. As you may know, tobacco companies were explicitly prohibited from marketing to children in the 2006 Final Judgment and Remedial Order (upheld on appeal in 2009) by the Justice Department in their lawsuit against the tobacco companies. You can read the full text of the order at

    Let me re-state my point, since you missed it. Tobacco companies continue to deliberately, unscrupulously, and unlawfully market their products to children through retail product placement, tobacco displays in child-directed movies and television, and other subliminal marketing techniques.

    You are absolutely right that it is the responsibility of parents to educate their children in making healthy choices. Nevertheless, that does not absolve the tobacco companies of responsibility for their illegal actions, nor does it absolve retail outlets for their complicity.

    Thank you for your suggestion that I should "get a grip and welcome to the real world." Following the death of my 23-year old son from tobacco-caused illness, I find that it is my mission not only to get a grip, but to help create some positive outcomes.

    What's your mission?

  3. Welcome to the real world! Iceland, Thailand, Ireland and Norway have all adopted laws to prohibit the visible display of tobacco products at point of sale, as have all 13 Canadian provinces and territories, the British Virgin Islands, the Australian states of Tasmania, New South Wales, Western Australia, Victoria and the Australian Capital Territory and Northern Territory. Finland has also passed legislation that will introduce a ban of point of sale display from January 2012.

  4. Excellent point of sale review, Isobel. While the giant yellow "We Card" signs scream out to youth that tobacco use is an adult activity, a right of passage into adulthood, in truth smoking initation and dependency onset is primarily a youth activity.

    Here is the primary problem, while other nations do not see commercial advertising of tobacco as a protected free speech activity, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that so long as the product is legal, that advertising of it is protected by the same 1st Amendment that guards our free speech rights. It's why U.S. point of sale display bans and plain packaging laws like Australia's face serious constitutional challenges.

    What we are permitted to do is to pass state and local laws controlling youth access to tobacco. It's why I support passage of laws and ordinances forbidding youth from entering any tobacco sales location. Force merchants to decide whether or not they want to have children as customers or sell what many consider the most addictive chemical of all.

    Sincere regards,


  5. Thank you for your work. I have work in a small hospital and have a Stop Smoking Class each week. I found you today because I was looking for something to motivate the class.
    I am so sorry to hear of your son, Quentin's passing. You are doing the right thing by helping to prevent countless others from going through what your son did. God bless you! Joan

  6. Joan,

    Thank you for reading my blog, and for your kind words.

    Here are a few ideas for motivating people to quit smoking:

    * The costs of smoking don't stop when you lay down $5 for a pack of cigarettes. Consider the incidental expenses for smokers (purchasing lighters, ash trays, and other paraphernalia; extra dry-cleaning or laundry costs; replacement of clothing, accessories, furniture, and more due to burns and smoke residue; extra dental work including tooth whitening and tooth loss due to smoking; higher insurance premiums for home, auto, life, and health); costs for quit-smoking aids, books, devices, gum, etc; costs to society (cleaning up butt pollution, costs to legislate against tobacco companies' ruthless marketing strategies, costs to fight smoking-caused fires); and family costs (lost income due to illness and death of smokers).
    * Remind your audience that smoking in public models the behavior for children, youth, and others. When you smoke, you are doing the job of advertising for the tobacco companies' product. Every smoker is responsible in part for the addiction of children who see him or her smoking. See my blog post "The Big Tobacco School of Modeling" from March this year.
    * Search on-line for tobacco company advertising, and discuss the techniques they employ and the populations they target with their ads.
    * Reiterate that smokers are not only slaves to their habit but also indentured servants of the tobacco companies, paying an exorbitant price for a product with no benefits and huge risks.
    * "When you have a cigarette, you're not smoking. The cigarette does all the smoking; you're just the sucker!"
    * Statistics: Tobacco-related illness kills 1,200 Americans every day. Tobacco-related illness will kill more than 5,000,000 people worldwide this year. It kills more people than alcohol, illicit drugs, AIDS, murder, auto accidents, and suicide COMBINED.
    * Go to the website to find more quit smoking resources, testimonials, encouragement and motivation. It is a non-commercial website dedicated to the premise that the first and best way to quit smoking is "cold turkey" - not one more puff.
    * Feel free to use any or all of my blog posts to help start a conversation about the topics there.

    Keep up the good work! We, as a society, should be outraged by the blight that tobacco is on the face of our culture. By the unconscionable techniques that Big Tobacco uses for marketing to children. By their defiance of court orders from the Justice Department prohibiting practices that they still engage in. Get mad and get busy is my motto!

    All the best to you,


  7. I would also like to thank you for the blog. I was looking today for information on how to quit "cold Turkey" and found the I was shocked when I noticed the sidebar with the "we died young" info. That is how I found you. I have smoked since I was 13 and I am now 37. I have started having daily heart palpataions and of course now I am scared. I have wanted to quit for a long time, but while you think you are in good health you don't really try very hard. Anyway, thanks again for the motivation. May you have peace in your life everyday.

  8. Thank you for taking time to post to my blog. Since I started writing this blog, my sister, a 50-year smoker, has been diagnosed with lung cancer, and is now recovering from the first surgery. You're absolutely right, while a person feels in good health, they don't try very hard to quit. The sad thing is that the cumulative effects build up slowly, and health issues can begin to appear gradually. I wish you the best of success (not luck, because that's not what it takes) in your effort to quit "cold turkey."