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Tobacco Giants Engage in 'Predatory' Marketing, Stanford Study Says

The Stanford School of Medicine organized a study to uncover marketing practices of tobacco companies.

Teens, minorities and low-income populations are more likely to purchase menthol cigarettes, according to a Stanford study reported Friday.

A study published in Nicotine & Tobacco Research by the Stanford School of Medicine revealed increased tobacco company advertisements and lowered prices of menthol cigarettes in areas highly populated with young African American students.

Researchers wanted to compare the relationship between tobacco company marketing and community demographics.

“We wanted to answer the question: how are community characteristics related to the quantity of advertising for cigarettes, the availability of promotions and the price?” Senior Research Scientist Lisa Henriksen said.

By observing arbitrary convenience stores within walking-distance from California high schools, researchers noted a proportional increase in menthol advertising and African American students present in close vicinity.

“Fundamentally, we observed a different pattern of marketing for the leading brand of menthol cigarettes,” Henriksen said. “Then, we observed the leading brand of non-menthol cigarettes and the pattern suggests that in school neighborhoods with a larger proportion of African American students and a larger proportion of young residents, there were more ads for menthol cigarettes, a greater chance of having a sale on menthol cigarettes [because] the price was lower. It’s not that all cigarettes were cheaper, just menthol cigarettes.”

Scientists identify this practice as “predatory” marketing -- advertising targeted at a specific race or ethnicity.

“Previously secret tobacco industry documents reveal a variety of strategies that tobacco companies have used to target African Americans with cigarettes generally, and menthol cigarette advertising specifically,” Henriksen said. “This study is consistent with the evidence revealed in those documents.”

Lorillard Tobacco Company, which produces Newport menthol cigarettes used in the study, has released their documents to the public with the intention of disclosing private information.

Multiple attempts to reach Lorillard spokespeople were unsuccessful, but the company website describes its motivation for lowering cigarette prices as being to sell less popular brands.

“We produce cigarettes for both the premium and discount segments of the domestic cigarette market," the website states. "Premium brands are well known, established brands marketed at higher retail prices. Discount brands are generally less well recognized brands marketed at lower retail prices.”

The website additionally claims that ethical marketing practices are a top priority for the company.

“The Board of Directors and management of Lorillard Inc. are committed to maintaining and fostering a responsible business environment along with strong Corporate Governance practices, and conducting business in a responsible and ethical manner at all times.”

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