Follow the major tobacco companies marketing budgets and all arrows point to college students. The major tobacco companies, desperate for “replacement smokers” or “starters” to pick up the market slack for those who have either died or quit smoking, have targeted the 18-24 year old demographic because they’re young, nave, and could, if addicted early, potentially buy cigarettes for many years. The problem is that the tobacco companies are effective in their manipulation of us, their target. According to the U.S. Office on Smoking and Health, “90 percent of all smokers begin before age 20 and fully 60 percent have started by their fourteenth birthday.” Don’t believe you’re being targeted? According to TobaccoFreeU, “Big Tobacco” companies spend millions of dollars promoting their products in bars and nightclubs, alternative papers and music events thatattract the college-aged demographic. Perhaps the Camel Casbah bar promotions held in several major U.S. cities were the most successful marketing campaign aimed at the collegeaged demographic. First, R.J. Reynolds, the producer of Camel cigarettes, rents a trendy bar or nightclub for the night (including paying for drinks and tipping bartenders) to hold a “promotion night.” Then, they pay for advertising in alternative papers to promote both the bar and the event. The Camel Casbah events feature free drinks, free gifts, free exotic entertainment such as belly dancing, massage, or magic, and of course, free packs of cigarettes to anyone willing to provide a driver’s license and their home address where coupons will be sent.
For both bar owners and consumers, Camel Casbah events are a win-win situation. Bar owners get free advertising and new customers, while those in attendance get free drinks and entertainment. Of course, it’s only a win-win situation if you can overlook the fact that the whole event is aimed at peddling an addictive drug to young people.
Considering that it only takes about four cigarettes to become addicted to nicotine and R.J. Reynolds provideseach person at these promotional events with at least 40 cigarettes for “free,” the potential return on their initial investment is staggering. Do the math and you’ll see that a $10 investment (2 packs of cigarettes) can lead to a return of $1,820 per year if first-time smokers develop a pack-a-day habit. When drunk, anyone (including college-aged youth), will make poor judgment calls, including trying a cigarette. Tobacco bar promotions, which have increased dramatically since the 1990’s, create a vulnerable situation for youth to become addicted to cigarettes.
Tobacco bar promotions are nothing more than using one drug, alcohol, to hook you on another, nicotine. These unethical marketing practices are accepted by tobacco companies, but we convict “immoral” individuals using “gateway” drugs to sell crack, cocaine, or heroin (all of which are less addictive than nicotine).
Why don’t college-aged youth see that we’re targets of tobacco companies’ unethical marketing practices? Because the advertising smoke has clouded our eyes. Smoking has been cleverly linked to eating, drinking, socializing and even sex through “lifestyle marketing” plans developed in the early 80’s. Over the years, people have begun to see smoking as a “normal”part of the social landscape.
This particular marketing method is clever because it creates the illusion that tobacco companies aren’t targeting anyone, but rather it’s just that smoking is a part of life. However, smoking is not a normal part of life, nor do the majority of college-aged students smoke. At West Chester University 60 percent of students don’t smoke, but because smokers must stand outdoors to light up, they are highly visible on campus creating the illusion that there are many more smokers than there actually are.
You can stop the “lifestyle” and “bar promotions” marketing in your community. Find like-minded people to develop a “Campus Tobacco Task Force.” At WCU, S.W.A.T (Students Working Against Tobacco) are already working on policy change, prevention campaigns, and cessation programs and are actively seeking volunteers.
The Student Health and Wellness Center is also seekingvolunteers to help advertise the availability of free smoking cessation programs and resources. To find out more about how you can stop being a target and start fighting back visit the Wellness Center at Wayne Hall for more information.