Action on Smoking and Health

Tag Archives: marketing

Tobacco Advertising and Promotion in the UK

While most forms of tobacco advertising and promotion in the UK are banned, the tobacco industry has continued to promote its products through packaging and “below the line” marketing.
February 2019.

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ASH Daily News for 27 July 2018


  • West Midlands: Budget cut as plans to launch digital stop smoking service approved in Sandwell
  • “Sin” taxes are less efficient than they look, but they do help improve public health


  • US: Smokeless tobacco warning label may have misled consumers for years
  • Australia: Six tonnes of tobacco seized from illegal crops in Northern Territory
  • Opinion: How the tobacco industry has changed its marketing strategy across the globe


West Midlands: Budget cut as plans to launch digital stop smoking service approved in Sandwell

Smokers in Sandwell could soon be offered online quit support after councillors agreed to re-commission its Stop Smoking service. It comes after cabinet members gave the go-ahead to proposals to cut its stop smoking budget by £360,000 and search for a new bidder to deliver the service.

The Stop Smoking service will be re-commissioned when the current contract comes to an end next April, councillors agreed on Wednesday.

Councillor Elaine Costigan, Sandwell council’s cabinet member for public health and protection, said: “Smoking cessation remains a key priority areas for Sandwell council public health. The proposed adjustments to the budget for the Stop Smoking service reflect a need to correct-size the allocation for this particular service. However, the new service will target hard-to-reach groups where smoking prevalence continues to remain high. We will also develop a digital self-help offer to reach those who don’t access traditional services.”

Source: Express & Star, 27 July 2018

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“Sin” taxes are less efficient than they look, but they do help improve public health

Governments hope that just as taxes on alcohol and tobacco both generate revenue and reduce smoking and drinking, so sugar taxes will help curb obesity.

As policy instruments, sin taxes can be blunt. People who only occasionally drink or smoke are taxed no differently from heavy smokers and drinkers, whilst some economists are concerned that sin taxes affect low-income households most.

However, sin taxes do change behaviour. Estimates vary from study to study, but economists find that on average, a 1% increase in prices is associated with a decline of around 0.5% in sales of both alcohol and tobacco. Economic models assume that people know what they are doing, but humans struggle with behaviour change. Most smokers are aware of the health risks, but many still find it hard to quit.

Source: The Economist, 26 July 2018

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US: Smokeless tobacco warning label may have misled consumers for years

In 1986, the U.S. government passed legislation requiring a series of warnings for smokeless tobacco products, one of which advised “This product is not a safe alternative to cigarettes.”

That warning, however, obscured an important distinction—that cigarettes are much more harmful to health than smokeless tobacco products. Over the 30-plus years since, the American public has mostly been unaware that smokeless tobacco is much less harmful than cigarettes, one of the nation’s leading tobacco policy experts argues in a new paper.

“It is important to distinguish between evidence that a product is ‘not safe’ and evidence that a product is ‘not safer’ than cigarettes or ‘just as harmful’ as cigarettes,” says the paper author, Lynn Kozlowski, professor of community health and health behavior at the University at Buffalo’s School of Public Health and Health Professions. “The process at the time of the establishment of official smokeless tobacco warnings in the 1980s paid no attention to this distinction,” Kozlowski adds. “The American public has become mostly unaware that smokeless tobacco is much less harmful than cigarettes.”

See also:
Harm Reduction Journal, Origins in the USA in the 1980s of the warning that smokeless tobacco is not a safe alternative to cigarettes: a historical, documents-based assessment with implications for comparative warnings on less harmful tobacco/nicotine products

Source: Medical Xpress, 26 July 2018

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Australia: Six tonnes of tobacco seized from illegal crops in Northern Territory

Six tonnes of illegal tobacco leaves and vast fields of mature plants worth more than $13m in lost tax have been seized on a rural property in the Northern Territory. This was the first successful strike by a taskforce bringing together agencies including the Australian Tax Office and Australian Border Force. The illegal tobacco trade costs the federal government about $600m a year in lost revenue.

Australian Border Force assistant commissioner Sharon Huey said people may think it fairly harmless to purchase a cheap pack of illegal cigarettes, but warned the consequences could be dire. “The profits they make are going into more serious and more insidious types of crime,” she said. “We shouldn’t underestimate the impact of illicit tobacco.”

Source: Guardian, 26 July 2018

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Opinion: How the tobacco industry has changed its marketing strategy across the globe

Tirumalai Kamala, Immunologist, Ph.D. Mycobacteriology, discusses which countries have done the best at eliminating smoking.

“Among the wiliest of industry operators, the tobacco industry started expanding its markets in China, Africa and Latin America as the noose began tightening around its activities in North America and Western Europe.

Being a formidable litigant helped it in this expansion, enabling it to successfully hide for decades the extent to which it knew full well that what it peddles is poison. In practical terms, this means that even as public policies in some countries started gaining ground against smoking, rates increased in others which either lacked such regulations and/or could be easily manipulated through PR campaigns.

Illustrative examples from Bhutan and Brazil show how public policies on smoking could either unwittingly increase it or work as they should and reduce it.”

Source: Forbes, 25 July 2018

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PMI, Poverty and the Political Game

Don’t let smokescreens like the PMI-funded ‘Foundation for a Smoke-Free World’ [1] deceive you — Big Tobacco continues to pump its lethal smoked products into low- and middle-income countries, exacerbating poverty and racking up billions of dollars along the way.

As the company continues to undermine tobacco control policies across the globe, [2] [3] its solemn commitment to a smokefree future is more than a little disingenuous. [4]

Major advancements in tobacco control across countries like the UK, have displaced international conglomerates such as PMI to low- and middle-income populations, where 80% of the world’s smokers now live. [5]

In these countries, implementation of the WHO’s Framework Convention Tobacco Control (FCTC), a lifesaving treaty which reaffirms the right of all people to the highest standard of health, has often been low. [6] Indeed, by 2014 a survey of two thirds of Parties to the Treaty found that 51 countries had implemented no measures at the highest level. [7]

But rather than mobilising to address this discrepancy and advance its shiny new smokefree agenda, PMI has been doing all it can to undermine tobacco control, both in spirit and in practice.

PMI ignores the philosophy of tobacco control by taking advantage of existing legislative loopholes and capitalising on the lack of substantive advertising restrictions in low- and middle-income countries. Though PMI promises “advertising activities are directed only toward adult smokers,” [8] its intensive marketing ploys bombard kids in countries like Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Nigeria and Uganda, with tobacco sale outlets often visible from the school gates. [9] The company also uses child-friendly flavoured cigarettes to entice young people, [10] and encourages “single stick” sales by providing retailers with free promotional materials. [11]

And by attempting to subvert further implementation of the FCTC, the company also undermines the role out of tobacco control measures. Its army of corporate lobbyists are encouraged to “play the political game” [12] and deliberately target so-called “anti-tobacco extremists” at FCTC conferences (where delegates set the guidelines) and apply pressure at the country level (where delegates are selected and the treaty is transposed into law). [13]

One popular method has been to water down the health minister delegates with trade, finance and agriculture representatives, since these people are more likely to be supportive of PMI’s deadly cause — a strategy that somewhat contradicts its smokefree advocacy. [14]

It is unsurprising that 80% of the world’s tobacco-related deaths are anticipated to occur in low- and middle-income countries by 2030. [15] And in addition to the personal tragedy of life lost, this is leaving less money available for food, schooling and doctors’ fees, since spending on tobacco products can add up to over 10% of total household earnings, and premature death causes a significant loss of income. [16]

Meanwhile, even though undernourishment remains a big problem in many tobacco-producing countries, 4.3 million hectares of arable land is currently gobbled up by tobacco cultivation, which could instead be used to feed hungry people. [17] Growing tobacco also pollutes water supplies with toxic pesticides and fertilizers, and generates over 2 million tonnes of solid waste each year. [18] In fact, cigarette butts account for 30–40% of all rubbish picked up in coastal and urban clean-ups. [19]

And the worst part is that this social, economic and environmental burden is falling upon those countries least equipped to deal with the consequences.

PMI’s website reads “Society expects us to act responsibly. And we are doing just that by designing a smoke-free future.” [20] But evidently for PMI that responsibility and that future are not intended for low- and middle-income countries.

With PMI’s AGM set for this week, ASH urges the company to ditch its blatant double standards.


by Anna Hazelwood



[1] Tobacco Tactics, Foundation for a Smoke-Free World, March 2018

[2] The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, Big Tobacco: Tiny Targets, a project by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids

[3] African Tobacco Control Alliance, Big Tobacco Tiny Targets: Tobacco Industry Targets Schools in Africa, November 2016

[4] Philip Morris International, Designing a Smoke-Free Future

[5] World Health Organisation, Tobacco Key Facts, 9 March 2018

[6] Gravely et al, Implementation of key demand-reduction measures of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control and change in smoking prevalence in 126 countries: an association study, 2017

[7] Gravely et al, Implementation of key demand-reduction measures of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control and change in smoking prevalence in 126 countries: an association study, 2017

[8] Philip Morris International, Underage tobacco and nicotine use

[9] African Tobacco Control Alliance, Big Tobacco Tiny Targets: Tobacco Industry Targets Schools in Africa, November 2016

[10] African Tobacco Control Alliance, Big Tobacco Tiny Targets: Tobacco Industry Targets Schools in Africa, November 2016

[11] African Tobacco Control Alliance, Sale of single sticks of cigarettes in Africa: survey report from 10 capital cities, March 2018

[12] Reuters, Inside Philip Morris’ campaign to subvert the global anti-smoking treaty, July 2017

[13] Reuters, Inside Philip Morris’ campaign to subvert the global anti-smoking treaty, July 2017

[14] Reuters, Inside Philip Morris’ campaign to subvert the global anti-smoking treaty, July 2017

[15] World Health Organisation, The Global Tobacco Crisis, 2008

[16] World Health Organisation, Tobacco is a deadly threat to global development, May 2017

[17] World Health Organisation, Tobacco and its environmental impact, 2017

[18] World Health Organisation, Tobacco is a deadly threat to global development, May 2017

[19] World Health Organisation, Tobacco is a deadly threat to global development, May 2017

[20] Philip Morris International, Designing a Smoke-Free Future

All links active 9 May 2018

Big tobacco’s big little lies on Twitter

“Giving back to the community matters to PMI. In #Mexico our team donated gifts to local organizations that help vulnerable youth. #InsidePMI”

This Tweet, published in 2017 by Philip Morris International, one of the world’s largest tobacco companies, is part of a strategic communication plan to reshape the battered reputation of the tobacco industry. In reality, for a company that targets these same vulnerable youth to use its deadly products, the donation of “gifts” is little more than corporate window dressing.

Tweets of this nature are not uncommon. Our paper published in Tobacco Control found that 21% of tweets published by transnational tobacco companies highlighted the supposed positive impact that they are having on society and the environment. [1] Our study analysed all 3301 tweets published by British American Tobacco, Imperial Brands, Philip Morris International and Japan Tobacco International, up until May 2017, to uncover common themes. Tweets that critiqued or opposed tobacco control policies were found to be the most common, making up over 30% of the total number of tweets analysed.

A communication platform for false and misleading information

The tobacco industry has a long history of opposing tobacco control policy and promoting socially responsible business practices. However, with the rapid rise of social media platforms like Twitter, tobacco companies are enabled to readily and easily communicate these messages in a public domain. Online communications through social media are poorly regulated and the tobacco industry is attempting to take advantage of this. The industry has a platform where they can publish information that is either false or misleading, with little to no retribution.

Take this tweet for example:

“Myth 5: Tobacco Control said #plainpacks would stop young ppl from taking up smoking. Govt stats show this isn’t true”

This was published by Imperial Brands PLC in 2014, despite published evidence that showed plain packaging reduces the appeal of cigarette packs to adolescents. [2] Many other tweets were found to be misleading as the information published either only told half the story or painted the tobacco industry in a very positive light. The following tweet was published by British American Tobacco, despite the fact that the tobacco industry is the cause of 1.5 billion hectors of deforestation since the 1970s:

“140 million trees planted between 2007 and 2012 through our afforestation programmes #trees #afforestation”

British American Tobacco, Imperial Brands, Philip Morris International and Japan Tobacco International’s Twitter accounts also frequently tweeted about being favourable employers and the benefits that employees receive. Almost 20% of all tweets were of this nature. The “Top Employer” award was heavily promoted across all accounts. On the surface this award appears to be notable, but certification can be received by virtually any company upon application to the ‘Top Employers Institute’ — a small not-for-profit organisation in the Netherlands.

“We’re proud to be frequently rated as a top employer around the world #wearebat #topemployer” (British American Tobacco)

In tobacco control research, intelligence on tobacco industry strategies to oppose public health was once drawn from annual reports, leaked tobacco industry documents, court cases and websites. Now, the tobacco industry has an online platform where they can also publish and promote their key messages openly and freely, even when false or misleading. But for the first time, it is possible to also engage with and respond to this messages in real time.

Comprehensive regulation is needed

Tighter regulation of online activities by tobacco companies is urgently needed. While it could be argued that the reach of these PR messages on Twitter is small and inconsequential, they form part of a wider plan to insert the tobacco industry as a key partner in public health and to weaken tobacco control. [3]

Australia has signed and ratified the World Health Organisation Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (WHO FCTC) and is bound by the terms of the treaty. Guidelines to the implementation of Article 13 of the WHO FCTC outline that publically promoting corporate social responsibility initiatives is a form of sponsorship, and should be included in comprehensive bans on tobacco advertising, promotion, and sponsorship.

Equally important is the need for current gaps in the WHO FCTC to be addressed. Although Article 13 of the FCTC includes cross-border advertising, implementation guidelines are yet to be developed in an operational way. This should be made a priority to ensure the WHO FCTC’s enforcement is comprehensive, relevant for today’s changing media landscape and free of loopholes that the industry can exploit.

Tobacco advertising and promotion has been banned in Australia for decades, yet tobacco companies are continuing to falsely promote themselves as ‘good corporate citizens’, alongside strongly opposing evidence-based tobacco control polices on publicly on social media. These strategies serve only to promote the tobacco industry’s interests and its deadly products.


by Christina Watts, Becky Freeman and Marita Hefler


[1] Watts C, Hefler M, Freeman B. ‘We have a rich heritage and, we believe, a bright future’: how transnational tobacco companies are using Twitter to oppose policy and shape their public identity. Tobacco Control. 2018.

[2] Germain D, Wakefield MA, Durkin SJ. Adolescents’ perceptions of cigarette brand image: does plain packaging make a difference? J Adolesc Health. 2010;46:385–92.

[3] Daube M, Moodie R, McKee M. Towards a smoke-free world? Philip Morris International’s new Foundation is not credible. The Lancet. 2018.

Article originally published at Croakey.

Standardised “plain” packaging for hand rolling tobacco

Tomorrow sees the final implementation of new regulations which mandate that all cigarettes and tobacco must be sold in standardised “plain” packaging. As a part of the countdown, today’s article looks at how hand rolling tobacco is affected. See our factsheet for more information.

During the course of this week we’ve been looking at the influence that cigarette packaging has on consumer behaviour. Hand rolling tobacco is also included in the new regulations on standardised “plain” packaging. There are also new rules governing pack sizes and the use of price marking.

The proportion of smokers using hand rolling tobacco is increasing. In 2013 it was recorded that 40% of male smokers were predominantly using rolling tobacco, along with 23% of female smokers. This was a big increase from 1998 when the figures were 25% of male smokers and 8% of female smokers. [1]


A price-marked, branded 12.5g packet of Amber Leaf tobacco


There are a number of things that will change about this branded, price-marked pack of Amber Leaf hand rolling tobacco, made by Japan Tobacco International.

Firstly, the image branding will go. The Amber Leaf logo, which works hard to imply a natural, positive product (note the green background with shining, luxuriant leaves) will be removed, replaced by larger pictorial health warnings and drab, standard, olive-coloured backgrounds. The branding also works to imply that hand rolling tobacco is less harmful than machine made cigarettes. This is terribly misleading and rolling tobacco is at least as harmful. [2]

Secondly, the price marking will no longer be allowed. As you may have seen in yesterday’s article, price is a key factor in encouraging people to quit. Removing these price marked packs, which imply economy and good value, will help.


The new, standardised “plain” packaging or hand rolling tobacco will look like this.


Thirdly, the pack size is too small for the new regulations. From tomorrow, hand rolling tobacco must be sold in a minimum pack size of 30 grams, while cigarettes must be sold in packs of at least 20 sticks. Minimum pack sizes are being introduced to make tobacco less available to children and young people. Smaller packs are cheaper and therefore more likely to be “affordable” for children and young people. Since most smokers become addicted in childhood, everything we can do to #ActOnTobacco and restrict access to this deadly product by children and young people will contribute to ending the tobacco epidemic sooner.

Measures such as visual branding, price-marking and pack sizing are crucial to the tobacco industry, which is why they fought so hard, and at great expense, to do everything they could to prevent the new regulations. Standardised “plain” packaging represents a landmark achievement for public health in the UK.

While the UK is a world leader in tobacco control, it’s important that we work to support similar legislation elsewhere to tackle the global harm caused by the tobacco industry.



Countdown to standard packaging — how the tobacco industry uses packaging to target women and girls

The tobacco industry uses cigarette packaging as a marketing opportunity. In order to entice the next generation of smokers, brands like Silk Cut produced a line of Superslims which were developed to target to women and teenage girls. The new rules on standardised “plain” packaging puts a stop to these techniques in the UK. For more, read our factsheet here.

For a long time, tobacco marketing largely ignored women. Smoking among women was relatively uncommon and carried lots of subtle stigma. Women that smoked, it was thought, were of questionable virtue. This changed in the 1920s when the tobacco industry realised the vast profits to be made from half of the population. Tobacco advertising targeted at women has consistently tried to prey upon their insecurities, especially around weight.

The Silk Cut Superslims lipstick pack


One of the most recent, and insidious examples, is shown above. This is a “lipstick pack” of Silk Cut Superslims, produced by Japan Tobacco International.

The packaging of this particular product reinforces the (false) correlation between smoking and being thin. It was launched in 2008, just as ASH began campaigning for standardised plain packaging. As pictured above, the Superslims pack is made to resemble that of a lipstick — tall, thin, and with an elegant silver and purple design. The cigarettes themselves are longer and thinner to give a lighter, more ‘feminine’ impression. Its ultimate goal is to spin a deadly habit into a glamourous, health-conscious luxury. They are clearly tapping into the insecurities of women and teenage girls through the promotion of superslim cigarettes as a path to weight loss.

At the time of their launch Deborah Arnott, ASH Chief Executive, said: “Silk Cut is using the terminology ‘super slim’ to make the link between smoking their product and losing weight. Like a dog whistle that is inaudible to humans, this message is only heard by those it’s aimed at: in this case girls anxious about their weight and desperate to stay slim. It’s despicable for the industry to target vulnerable young women in this way.”

A 2016 study published in The BMJ demonstrates that lipstick-style superslim cigarettes and their packaging are perceived the most positively and rated the most appealing among female non-smokers or occasional smokers aged 12–24. Due to their smaller size, they are seen as less harmful. The lipstick-style packaging lead participants to rate the health risks associated with smoking these cigarettes as “less serious” as the health warnings are more difficult to read and the small pack size means the warnings are not displayed properly. The study concluded that such packs increase the appeal of smoking, mislead consumers about the level of harm smoking causes, and undermine the on-pack health warnings.

Typical early tobacco advert targeting women


This isn’t a new method; women have been the targets of tobacco companies’ marketing as early as the 1920’s. In 1928 the President of American Tobacco said: “It will be like opening a new gold mine right in our front yard”. But to mine that gold they needed to create new and acceptable social meanings for female smoking, which hitherto had been associated with prostitution and louche women. So, a main focus of such campaigning focuses in on a cigarette’s ‘ability’ to promote weight loss. Advertising campaigns subsequently utilised catchphrases such as “Reach for a Lucky Instead of a Sweet” to encourage women to take up smoking.

The new rules being implemented this weekend by the UK prohibit these lipstick packs, while making the colour and design illegal too. But in many countries around the world such tactics are still widespread. As a world leader in tobacco regulation, it is important that the UK extends support to other countries who wish to adopt similar legislation to fight the global tobacco epidemic. We must continue to #ActOnTobacco and protect girls and young women from such toxic and damaging marketing practice.

Tobacco Industry Marketing Aimed At Children.

Students in Indonesia buy single cigarettes without age identification at a kiosk after school. Photo by Michelle Siu


Despite increasing government regulation of tobacco marketing globally, children and young people are still being targeted by tobacco companies like British American Tobacco (BAT) and Philip Morris International (PMI).

Two thirds of all smokers begin as children under the age of 18 and this is an essential window of opportunity for the tobacco industry as only a small proportion of adults take up smoking. Unless Big Tobacco can succeed in getting this reservoir of young “replacement smokers” [1] hooked, it faces a dying market as half of all adult smokers die prematurely, amounting to millions of lost customers every year. [2] This drives companies like BAT and PMI’s need for their products to be bought by children and young people.

Youth-orientated marketing initiatives are particularly dangerous as research shows that exposure to cigarette promotion from a young age creates a positive association with smoking, making it more difficult for addicted smokers to quit.

The African Tobacco Control Alliance (ATCA) published a report last year [1] showing how tobacco companies including BAT and PMI persuade consumers to use their products in Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Benin, Nigeria, and Uganda. Both of these companies conduct intensive marketing and promotional campaigns to encourage tobacco usage among children by targeting the areas around schools.

They do so through four key strategies: advertising and promotion, sale of single cigarettes, sale of child-friendly flavoured cigarettes, and non-compliance with existing tobacco control laws.

ATCA’s research found high numbers of cigarette promotion and sales near schools, just the sort of promotion that is banned in the UK. “In Burkina Faso, 100% of the schools surveyed have stores in the surroundings that advertise cigarettes. In Cameroon, 85% of the schools have stores in the vicinity that promote cigarettes on the counter. In Uganda, 100% of the schools have stores in the vicinity that promote cigarettes behind the counter. In Benin, 100% of the schools surveyed have stores around selling flavoured cigarettes. Similar products are being sold respectively around 55% and 25% of schools in Cameroon and Uganda.” [1]

Enticing flavours coupled with the ease of access to cigarettes, particularly through the sale of individual cigarettes, has been shown to encourage higher rates of smoking among children and adds to the overall growing epidemic of tobacco usage in these five countries.

Though there have been attempts at regulation, companies such as BAT and PMI either directly hamper public health policy initiatives [3], flout the lawaltogether [4], or find new ways to promote products to children. The public must press for greater government regulation and enforcement to prevent the promotion of cigarettes to children.

Here’s how you can: #ActOnTobacco


[1] African Tobacco Control Alliance. Big tobacco tiny targets: Tobacco industry targets schools in Africa. November 2016.
[2] Kessler judgement :US District Court for the District of Columbia Civil Action №99–2496 (GK) USA Plaintiff v. PMI (USA) defendant et al. Final judgement 2006.
[3] Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. Tobacco. 15 February 2015.
[4] Mosupi A. African children the latest target for tobacco companies — ATCA. Times Live. 7 December 2016.