How Tobacco Companies Target Teens

How the tobbacco companies target teens

If there was ever a question about tobacco companies targeting teens, it should be noted that 78% of middle school teens and 87% of high school teens prefer Marlboro, Camel, or Newport brands. This data came from the CDC’s report on Morbidity and Mortality Weekly report. If there’s such brand loyalty and preference out there, then it is clear that the messages the tobacco companies are sending are reaching teens.

It is all about image

The primary way tobacco companies are able to target teens is through image. Teens are highly susceptible to marketing that gives them promises of being cool, sexy, alluring, or rugged. By creating these images and associating them with smoking, tobacco companies can convince teens that if they choose to smoke it will help them become more popular, fit in, look mature, or just be cool. In order to deliver these messages within the scope of what tobacco companies are allowed to do, they focus on magazines and movie advertising.

Magazine Advertising

As of 2001, numerous national magazines were accepting tobacco company advertisements. The following magazines are included in this group: Rolling Stone, Sporting News, Sports Illustrated, TV Guide, Mademoiselle, People, Outdoor Life, Time, and Elle. In these magazine ads, images are created for the teen demographic that are embedded in the way they think and can lead to a false perception about smoking. If you compare smoking ads to ads for alcohol, the consistencies lie in the way a person wants to identify themselves or the image they want to portray. Certain types of alcohol appeal to women and make them look sophisticated, sexy, elegant, and desirable. Other ads for men make it seem as if a man who drinks that type of alcohol is sexy, fun, mature, or mysterious. As teens become exposed to these ads, they end up with an image of what smoking is all about and may easily choose to start smoking in order to fulfill that.


For years, smoking has been an integral part of movies. Smoking is shown in sex scenes, bars, dating, and of course military and action movies. Even a movie such as Independence day shows smoking cigars as part of a reward for a job well done by the heroes. Villians and heroes alike smoke cigarettes and cigars in movies and it tends to be a sign of power, independence, strength, and toughness. Manly men smoke cigarettes in movies and the sexiest vixens also smoke. It has been shown that a teen is 16 times more likely to smoke if their favorite actor is portrayed as a smoker. The images created in movies support everything a teen wants to be and make smoking an incredibly “cool” thing to do to them.

Point of purchase marketing (PoP)

Point of purchase marketing is the placement of ads, reducing the number of government sponsored health warnings, and increasing the number of promotions at retail stores. Tobacco companies can focus this strategy towards retail locations near schools and places teenagers go. This gives the teens repeat exposure to the marketing messages tobacco companies want to send.

What’s being done

There is an everlasting battle between big tobacco and groups that want to prevent people from picking up the habit. RJ Reynolds can no longer use Joe Camel as an icon for the brand because of the fact that it appeals to younger demographics. There are higher taxes, a higher number of health warnings, and other support groups are actively targeting teens for non-smoking advertisements and messages. The list goes on but sometimes it can be quite difficult to compete with Hollywood and teens natural desire to create and project an image.