Tobacco Advertising Going Up in Smoke


Mark J. Miller

Americans purchased 636.5 billion cigarettes way back in 1981. A good chunk of them were likely sucked in by the slew of air-traffic controllers that President Reagan fired. Or maybe it was all the people coming out of the year’s fifth most-popular film, “Cheech and Chong’s Nice Dreams.” Or those taking a break after getting down to Kool & the Gang’s “Celebration.” 

It’s hard to know just where all those cigarettes were going, but that year found Americans purchasing more of the so-called cancer sticks than any other. Since then, of course, there has been a long battle to help people ditch tobacco products in the hopes of bringing down the numbers of death from cancer. 

It appears that the anti-tobacco movement is working, just as the FDA is ready to ramp up a massive new five-year, anti-smoking campaign in the U.S. According to a new report from the Federal Trade Commission, cigarette purchases in America fell to an all-time low of 281.6 billion in 2010.

Along with that, tobacco companies are spending fewer dollars on advertising cigarettes as well. The numbers are still huge, to be sure, but they aren’t headed in the direction tobacco execs would like. Ad spending on cigarettes in 2009 was $9.94 billion in 2008, the Cigarette Report for 2009 and 2010 reports, but it fell all the way down to $8.05 billion in 2010.

Most of that money is spent on promotions that the average consumer never even sees; “the cigarette companies spent most of their advertising budgets on promotional discounts paid to cigarette retailers or wholesalers to support reduced prices of cigarettes to consumers in 2010.” Those dollars made up more than 80% of the total payout that year.

Curiously, advertising spending in magazines by the top five cigarette companies has increased in recent years, rising from $25.5 million in 2008 to $46.5 million in 2010.

In New Zealand, meanwhile, cigarette sales are being affected by sharply rising taxes as well as the fact that retailers cannot actually show the packs publicly anymore. One of the region’s top tobacco companies, Imperial Tobacco, is now sounding the alarm that alcohol and similarly supposedly unhealthy products may soon befall the same types of rulings.

“The writing is on the wall for many non tobacco products if regulation continues to escalate,” said Imperial Tobacco market manager Paul Warham, according to a press release.

“We may well see alcohol and other products – such as snack foods – treated like tobacco on both sides of the Tasman. The situation with alcohol regulation now is reminiscent of what started happening to the tobacco industry in New Zealand and Australia 30 years ago – only now with alcohol, things are actually moving faster than they did with tobacco products. First there are concerns flagged about the impact the product has on society, which we’re already seeing in New Zealand. Then come calls for restrictions of some kind to be imposed, and we’re seeing that here too. And then comes legislation that enforces increasingly punitive controls, including advertising restrictions and increased taxes and, eventually, proposals for plain packaging

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