While tobacco companies face strict limits on what, where, when, why, and to whom they can advertise their products, in recent years Big Tobacco has started to zero in on certain marginalized groups.
Specifically, some tobacco companies are marketing their products to the Navajo Nation here in Arizona and LGBTQ youth across the country.
In a report from the American Cancer Society, researchers found that tobacco marketing in Arizona is deeply connected with Indian stores, bingo halls, and casinos. Not only are tobacco stores often located extremely close to Native American gaming casinos, but because of lower taxes on tribal territory, reservation cigarette stores offer better prices, helping to attract a high volume of customers.
During an average week, a single Indian tobacco store might sell 10,000 cartons of cigarettes per week, while the 31 Indian tobacco stores in Arizona account for 14% of all state cigarette sales.
And according to the American Cancer Society report “Manipulating a Sacred Tradition,” many “tobacco manufacturers implement highly competitive, cut-throat promotional strategies within the Navajo Nation aimed at undercutting their competitor’s prices while luring low-income, price-sensitive individuals into commercial tobacco addiction.” The report also accuses tobacco companies of trying “to use, abuse, and defraud Indian Nations with respect to their health, their culture, and their financial independence.”
Between 2010 and 2012, tobacco industry marketing in Arizona grew from 90.5 million to $108.5 million. Nationally, the industry spends $26 million every day on marketing, and in addition to campaigns targeted to Indian customers, Big Tobacco is also trying to lure new young adult smokers from the LGBTQ community.
For a variety of reasons, including higher stress and targeted advertisements, LGBTQ Americans smoke cigarettes at almost twice the rate of the country as a whole. The Food and Drug Administration estimates that out of more than 2 million LGBTQ young people, at least 800,000 currently smoke.
And while smoking rates have been decreasing among young people, on any given day an estimated 15,006 teens try drugs like tobacco, alcohol, or marijuana for the first time.
Smoking was once portrayed as part of a glamorous lifestyle for women or the hallmark of a manly, devil-may-care attitude for men, but those antique attitudes are fast changing.
It takes just one-tenth of a second for someone to make a first impression, often based on nonverbal cues like physical appearance and smell. The ashy body odor that comes from smoking can be a major liability in certain situations. In fact, as far back as 1988 studies showed that smoking could seriously decrease a smoker’s apparent “sex appeal.”
“The basic finding was that despite what advertisements would have us believe, both smokers and nonsmokers tend to rate smokers less attractive,” said researcher Eddie Clark to The Los Angeles Times in 1988. “The cigarette ads portray people who smoke as glamorous and sexy, but that’s not what the real image of a smoker is.”
So as attitudes towards smoking change, all signs indicate that Big Tobacco is switching gears as well, finding new groups to target with tobacco marketing.
Here in Arizona, about 8,300 residents die every year from smoking, while there are an estimated 115,000 kids now living in the state will will one day die from smoking. Every year tobacco costs the state $2.38 billion in healthcare costs.