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Ending the Tobacco Problem: A Blueprint for the Nation
from regulation under the Controlled Substances Act (1970). Without these congressionally enacted exemptions, tobacco products would have been subject to strong regulation—indeed, they theoretically could have been removed from the market under these statutes if the applicable regulatory agency had been so inclined (Kluger 1996).
As they sought protection from potentially damaging legislation, tobacco companies also spent billions of dollars marketing cigarettes to ensure a steady stream of customers. Their products were killing some 400,000 people a year and causing widespread morbidity, while the public health community scrambled to stem the damage. The major companies, aggressively competing for market share and for new smokers, hired top public relations companies to reshape the image of old brands and draw in new populations of smokers (Kluger 1996).
With women accounting for an increasing proportion of smokers and with the women’s liberation movement advocating for female freedom and independence, women became a ready target for tobacco industry marketing. In 1967, companies rapidly increased their advertising in women’s magazines and Philip Morris launched its Virginia Slims cigarette featuring the memorable slogan “You’ve Come a Long Way Baby.” The rate of smoking initiation among girls younger than age 18 years rose abruptly in 1967, the year that the Virginia Slims campaign began, peaking in 1973 at more than double the rate in 1967 (Pierce et al. 1994).
By the late 1980s, the R.J. Reynolds Company recast its Camel cigarette brand with a cartoon figure, Joe Camel, and initiated a marketing effort that would prove especially popular with young people. Following this image redesign, Camel’s youth market share ballooned. Although the tobacco companies insisted for decades that they were not targeting underage smokers, industry papers that would later become public indicated otherwise (Kluger 1996).
The tobacco companies also competed for smokers who were concerned about the dangers of smoking by marketing a succession of new low-tar and “light” cigarettes that offered smokers an alternative to quitting. These products emit lower levels of tar, carbon monoxide, and nicotine than other cigarettes, as measured by the standard FTC machine testing method. The implication that low-tar cigarettes would therefore reduce the dangers of smoking made these products the choice of increasingly large numbers of customers. Research later showed, however, that the benefits of low-tar products are not what the FTC figures might suggest, because smokers alter their smoking patterns to compensate for the reduced nicotine delivery and because the standard smoking machine used by the FTC does not accurately simulate how smokers smoke. Therefore, people who switched to these brands did not significantly lower their health risks (Harris et al. 2004; IOM 2001; NCI 2001).