July 26, 2010 - Tobacco companies are using increasingly sophisticated marketing techniques to circumvent the law and promote their brands to young people, according to health experts.
Cigarette advertising is banned in the European Union (EU), but wily tobacco giants are increasingly targeting young people through social networking sites such as Facebook and at major music festivals to create a "buzz" around their products.
A survey of the major youth-orientated summer festivals held across the UK has revealed that the events have become a key target for tobacco firms. Action on Smoking and Health (Ash) says that they provide powerful marketing opportunities for cigarette manufacturers to establish "a potent but unconscious bond between their brands and the intense experience of the festival".
Several of the UK's biggest festivals have allowed tobacco firms to sell their products on site in ways that have been condemned by health experts. This weekend's Lovebox festival in east London's Victoria Park, headlined by Roxy Music, is co-sponsored by Imperial Tobacco's Rizla rolling paper, which is exempt from the ban on tobacco advertising. An Imperial spokesman said the brand had sponsored a number of festivals. "It's all part of creating brand awareness and it's entirely legitimate."
At last year's Latitude festival in Suffolk, only Marlboro cigarettes could be sold. The cigarettes were available in black-and-red kiosks that lit up at night and were sold by young, attractive staff wearing "Marlboro Red" T-shirts and sunglasses. Only "special edition" boxes of Marlboro were available from the kiosks, which also offered "festival edition" lighters. This year's festival, which is being held this weekend, has seen a similar exclusive deal signed with John Player Special cigarettes, manufactured by Imperial Tobacco.
At last year's Big Chill in Herefordshire, five large cigarette stands that were illuminated at night sold only brands produced by JTI, which include Camel, Benson and Hedges and Amber Leaf. The stands, which sold limited edition packs and cigarettes at a reduced price, were staffed by "promotion girls" dressed in white uniforms. Festival "packages" were also available, containing two packs of cigarettes in a box that came with a lighter and glow stick and could be worn around the neck. Cigarette "stub tidys" bearing the JTI and Gallaher tobacco company brands were given away, while customised camper vans sold rolling tobacco.
At the Wakestock festival in Wales in 2008, reduced-price cigarettes, again manufactured by JTI whose brands also include Silk Cut, were promoted in stylish porthole displays, erected on a split-level stand staffed by attractive female sales staff dressed in pink and white uniforms.
"The tobacco industry needs to recruit new young smokers as their existing customers either quit or die," said Deborah Arnott, chief executive of Ash. "Their problem is that all but a few smokers start by the age of 18 and by that time they have made the brand choice that will last many of them a lifetime. Most forms of advertising are illegal in the UK, so the industry plays a clever game staying at the edge of the law, but in truth they are engaged in a fierce battle to capture the illegal teen market."
According to a survey of more than 10,000 adults in England, commissioned by Ash, six out of 10 parents want to ban tobacco marketing at festivals.
The battle to win young hearts and minds is also being waged in cyberspace. Research by an Australian academic, Becky Freeman, of Sydney University, published in the international journal Tobacco Control, found that employees of British American Tobacco (BAT) were using Facebook to promote Dunhill and Lucky Strike.
Freeman notes: "Some BAT employees are energetically promoting BAT and BAT brands on Facebook through joining and administrating groups, joining pages as fans and posting photographs of BAT events, products and promotional items." The employees are working in countries that have ratified bans on tobacco advertising, raising questions about whether their actions could be challenged in the courts.
Outside Europe, the promotion of cigarettes to young people is more blatant. The Camel brand has sponsored the Creamfields festival in Buenos Aires. In 2008, the Indonesian unit of Philip Morris International was forced to cancel its sponsorship of an Alicia Keys concert after complaints from anti-smoking campaigners and the singer herself. Last April, American Idol winner Kelly Clarkson came under fire after it emerged that her concert in Jakarta was sponsored by the cigarette brand LA Lights.
Meanwhile, it has emerged that UK tobacco firms are seeking to overturn new laws that ban cigarette vending machines from pubs and remove tobacco displays from shops and supermarkets, something that would have consequences for underage smokers, who frequently use vending machines to circumvent the law. The laws were passed by the previous government, but the regulations that would have implemented the changes have been blocked after a campaign from cigarette manufacturers which threatened to seek a judicial review. (Scotland - Imperial Tobacco in legal action to stop ban on cigarette displays and vending machine removal..)
The Department of Health has said that, given "the challenges facing business competition and costs", it would give further consideration to "the policy on display of tobacco products and sales from tobacco vending machines". (UK government could scrap tobacco control plans..)
Research presented to parliament suggests that 17% of 11- to 15-year-olds who smoke regularly buy cigarettes from vending machines, while a study published in the Journal of Nicotine and Tobacco Research last year found that displays behind shop counters influence young smokers.
Reference: Tobacco manufacturers target major music festivals to reach young audience Health experts condemn 'edge-of-the-law' tactics that use glitzy sales teams to promote brands at major events, Jamie Doward, The Observer, Guardian.com.uk, 7/18/2010.
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