Dealing with an innovative industry: a look at flavored cigarettes promoted by mainstream brands

The flavored cigarettes discussed here have come under fire from public health and tobacco control advocates, who say that these &#x0201c candy flavored&#x0201d products target youths.2,18,30,31 In addition, they say that flavored cigarettes mask the taste of tobacco (or &#x0201c sweeten the poison&#x0201d ),10 thereby making it easier for new smokers, 90% of whom are teenagers or younger, to take up the habit.2,18 The tobacco industry denies that these products are targeted at youths and says that the flavors, rather than being candylike, are those that appeal to adults. These cigarettes, the industry claims, reflect a general trend toward flavored products for other adult oriented products such as liquors and coffee and are made for, tested with, and marketed to adults.2,18

The distinction in target audiences is important for the future of these products. The Master Settlement Agreement (MSA) between the states and the tobacco industry outlawed advertising or promotions targeting youths (younger than 18 years) either directly or indirectly but did not impose significant restrictions on marketing to adults.32 Violation of the MSA through targeting youths could result in substantial penalties for the manufacturers and an end to the sales and marketing of these products. Thus far, tobacco control advocacy efforts and policy initiatives aimed at banning or limiting the sale of flavored products have primarily framed concerns in terms of targeting youths.

Although we agree that these products are indeed enticing to youths and at the very least are being marketed with them in mind, in this discussion we will focus on the tobacco industry&#x02019 s stated target population of adults, principally young adults, who serve as role models for youths. Indeed, young adults constitute an appealing market for the industry for several reasons. In addition to being the youngest legal targets for the tobacco industry and a group not protected by the MSA, young adults (18&#x02013 24 years) have some of the highest rates of cigarette smoking in the United States33,34 and are the one group for which smoking prevalence has not fallen in recent years.35 Tobacco companies recognize the importance of the youth and young adult market because brand preferences are established early in life, often with the first cigarette.36 Targeting young adults may be perceived as doubly beneficial in that it both captures 18 to 24 year olds and indirectly influences teens, who may seek to emulate their older peers.

Whereas previous research found that approximately 90% of smokers began smoking during early adolescence, recent studies suggest that a growing number are initiating smoking as young adults.37&#x02013 40 A number of factors have been suggested as playing a role in late initiation, including targeted marketing.29,41 In fact, review of previously secret tobacco documents has shown that the tobacco industry sees the process of becoming a smoker as something that begins in the teen years and extends into adulthood.41,42 In other words, getting someone to initiate smoking is just the first step producing a pack a day addicted smoker requires nurturing.

This nurturing and development of a loyal customer depends not just on the degree to which a tobacco brand&#x02019 s marketing employs images and words that resonate with an audience, but also on how well the product itself meets their needs and smoking preferences. The importance of the product&#x02019 s blend and taste to its success is not unknown to the industry. Research has shown that tobacco companies have modified product designs to meet target audience preferences,43&#x02013 45 with women and young people being notable target markets. According to tobacco industry documents, tobacco company research identified mildness, smoothness, sweetness, and less harsh tasting cigarettes as being important preferences for younger smokers.45 In fact, RJ Reynolds spent much of the 1980s researching and developing new versions of Camel that were more appealing to the young adult smoker. During this time, flavoring was determined to be something that could increase perceptions of smoothness. In this way, flavored cigarettes may be considered as innovations developed for the purpose of gaining market share by building on known product preferences.

Advertising for Camel Exotic Blends frames the smoking of flavored cigarettes as sophisticated and exotic, an indulgence for &#x0201c special occasions&#x0201d 46 that exemplifies the luxury concept of &#x0201c smoking less but smoking better.&#x0201d 47,48 These cigarettes may therefore promote another behavior the growing trend of nondaily or &#x0201c someday smoking&#x0201d 49 (the highest rate of which is among 18 to 24 year olds).34 In fact, according to an RJ Reynolds spokesman, Exotic Blends aim not at getting people to start smoking, but rather at adult smokers of competitive brands. &#x0201c Instead of smoking two packs of mainstream cigarettes daily, we want them to only smoke a few of our cigarettes, but enjoy them more,&#x0201d 47 the spokesman said.

It is too early to estimate the extent to which these flavored products will be adopted or the influence they will have. As indicated in the introduction, recently released findings show that the flavored lines are being smoked by both youths and young adults. Further research into the prevalence of their use and the appeal of their advertising is being conducted. Additional research should focus not only on who is smoking these cigarettes, but also on how, when, and where smokers are using these products. How regularly are they smoked? Are these cigarettes mostly used by current smokers as complements to their existing brand of cigarettes? If so, when, or on what occasions, do smokers decide to use the flavored cigarettes instead? What percentage of flavored cigarette smokers are new smokers? &#x0201c Part time&#x0201d smokers? Are there people who smoke flavored cigarettes now instead of their regular brand (and instead of quitting)? What do young smokers and nonsmokers think about the advertising and packaging concepts and the product overall? Are the products viewed as less harmful, more attractive, or more acceptable?

It is also unclear to what extent the flavored products&#x02014 even if they are used as occasional smokes, as their producers say they are intended&#x02014 might increase sales of and influence attitudes toward the brand in general. Will smoking Camel&#x02019 s Exotic Blends result in increased market share for regular Camels? Information from an ad agency, Gyro Worldwide, which reports on its Web site that it played an integral role in developing the Exotic Blends launch strategy,25 suggests this might be one of the aims of Camel&#x02019 s flavored line. According to Gyro, the goal in the creation of the Exotic Blends was to &#x0201c cast a positive halo across the entire Camel brand by raising product perceptions and dimensionalizing the brand&#x02019 s unique exotic brand heritage.&#x0201d 25

Although much of the controversy over these flavored cigarettes has centered on their potential to encourage experimentation (while masking the taste of the tobacco) among nonsmokers, smoking initiation is not the only behavior they may influence. The products discussed here offer a variety of tempting tastes and smells that may entice current and transitional smokers to continue smoking, derail quitting attempts, and lure those who have quit smoking to take it up again. These, too, are questions that need to be explored.

It is difficult to gauge how these products are viewed by their respective companies, although it has been noted that in 2002, following the introduction of Exotic Blends, Camel&#x02019 s sales rose 4% whereas Marlboro&#x02019 s fell 6%.30 More information is needed about the development of the products (including how flavors are selected and how they are added), about the monetary investment in these products and their
advertising, and about their adoption success and market share.

In the meantime, further regulation could work to impede the adoption of these products. As mentioned earlier, the MSA, while outlawing marketing to youths, did not significantly restrict marketing to adults and therefore left open a number of options for the tobacco industry. In keeping with the industry&#x02019 s history of shifting strategies in response to regulation, public opinion, and other factors,50 the MSA has been followed by increased expenditures for and emphasis on marketing strategies and populations (including young adults) not bound by it, rather than a reduction in overall cigarette promotional spending.23,26,41,42,51,52 Unaddressed strategies include in store advertising, advertising in magazines that lack a significant youth readership, sponsorship of adult only events, direct mail, and Internet promotions, all of which have been used in promoting these flavored products. In addition, MSA provisions did not address the content or appearance of cigarettes or their packaging, leaving the door open for the development and promotion of such products as flavored cigarettes, as well as their attractive and innovative packaging.

Public health and tobacco control advocates have long called for government regulation of the design and content of tobacco products, as well as their marketing, as a way of limiting the industry&#x02019 s ability to maximize both the appeal and addictiveness of their products.53 One provision of recently proposed legislation for the Food and Drug Administration regulation of tobacco calls for banning the use of flavoring other than menthol in cigarettes. Other policies that require plain or generic packaging of tobacco products could limit the appeal of these attractively packaged cigarettes by standardizing tobacco product packaging and design so it is the same from brand to brand.17,54 These policies would protect not only youths but also other susceptible target groups such as young adults.

Whether further regulation of tobacco products, packaging, and marketing will someday be realized or not, the tobacco industry will undoubtedly continue to develop new strategies to ensure its existence and maximize sales within any regulatory environment it faces. For this reason, public health practitioners need to be aware of tobacco industry product development and marketing tactics in order to anticipate, address, and counter their potential impact. Ongoing surveillance of tobacco industry activities is therefore essential.

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5 комментариев to “Dealing with an innovative industry: a look at flavored cigarettes promoted by mainstream brands”

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