Targeting the Young, Poor, Black and Stupid
Tobacco kills approximately six million people around the globe every year, including 443,000 Americans. Unchecked, tobacco-related deaths will increase to more than eight million a year by 2030, and 80 percent of those deaths will occur in the developing world. Ironically, you won’t find many tobacco executives who smoke. They know better.
“That’s a right we reserve for the young, poor, black and stupid,” said one tobacco executive in a closed-door meeting.
When it comes to tobacco marketing, the facts speak for themselves. About 80 to 90 percent of new smokers are teenagers. This includes almost 20 percent of all eighth graders. According to tobacco company documents, these companies actually target young people to replace the sales and profits once generated by smokers who have died or quit.
A variety of lawsuits have pressured the tobacco companies to open their files for closer public scrutiny. These documents have outlined several secrets and sensitive issues including:
- In 1962, RJR senior researcher Alan Rodgman wrote a controversial paper where he said that the amount of evidence accumulated to indict cigarettes as a health hazard was “overwhelming;”
- A series of Philip Morris studies called “Shock I-V” administered electric shocks to college students to see if the stress caused the study subjects to smoke more. The studies were conducted from 1969-1972;
- A 1973 RJR memo says that to lure “younger smokers” away from Philip Morris’ Marlboros, the leading teen-age brand, “comic strip type copy might get a higher readership among younger people than any other type of copy.” The document defined “younger smokers” as ages 14 to 24. Shortly thereafter, the Joe Camel character debuted in France. He came to the U.S. in 1987, and Camel rose to become the number two brand among teen-agers;
- A 1981 internal memo indicates that Philip Morris was concerned about the decrease in young smokers and the trend’s effect on cigarette sales. The memo was addressed to the vice president of research and development at Philip Morris and spoke of the smoking habits of children as young as 12. The memo said, “today’s teen-ager is tomorrow’s potential regular customer…Because of our high share of the market among the youngest smokers, Philip Morris will suffer more than the other companies from the decline in the number of teenage smokers;”
- A scientist found a way to remove carbon monoxide, a key contributor to heart disease, from cigarette smoke in the 1970s. Tobacco lawyers suppressed his discovery. Publishing the work “would have constituted an admission on the part of the company that carbon monoxide was in smoke,” said one lawyer, and the scientist said his bosses thought the process was too expensive;
- In the 1950s, when RJR’s top scientist attempted to isolate one of tobacco’s worst carcinogens, then-president Edward Darr responded: “Do we really need to be doing that kind of work?”
- In July 1963, Addison Yeaman, an attorney for Brown & Williamson, wrote a memo that said, “We are, then, in the business of selling nicotine, an addictive drug.” He added that cigarettes ease stress and prevent weight gain, but also “cause or predispose” smokers to lung cancer, contribute to heart disease and “may well be truly causative in emphysema, etc., etc.” Despite this knowledge, the company chose to hide it from the U.S. government and the public. Meanwhile, the first U.S. Surgeon General report on smoking was issued just six months later, but could not yet prove that cigarettes caused any of those problems identified by Brown & Williamson;
- An RJR memo shows that in 1972 the company concluded that smokers pick a brand based on their nicotine dosage requirements and secondarily by a variety of other factors, including flavor. When this evidence surfaced in 1995, RJR became the third tobacco company known to refer to its products as nicotine deliverers. Similar memos from Brown & Williamson and Philip Morris already had been discovered. As a result, the Food and Drug Administration unsuccessfully proposed classifying cigarettes as medical devices so it could regulate cigarettes;
- In 1977, B.A.T. Industries, PLC debated adding an obscure narcotic called etorphine to its cigarettes. It described the drug as “10,000 times more addictive than morphine;”
- In 1984, RJR concluded in a secret report that it needed to pitch its cigarettes to young adults to “replace” other smokers, according to court papers filed in Minnesota’s lawsuit against the tobacco industry. The marketing report cited federal information that showed smokers begin as early as 12 and rarely begin after they turn 25 years old. Based on these facts, the report suggested the company aggressively market to younger people;
- “Younger adult smokers are critical to RJR’s long-term performance and profitability. Therefore, RJR should make a substantial long-term commitment of manpower and money dedicated to younger adult smoker programs,” the report said. “If younger adults turn away from smoking, the industry must decline, just as a population that does not give birth will eventually dwindle,” said the report;
- A 1987 memo stamped “RJR Confidential” discusses a project code-named “LF,” where the company created a wider circumference, non-menthol cigarette targeted at young adult smokers (primarily 13-24 year-old male Marlboro smokers). Camel Wides eventually were sold.
- In 1994, Dr. Victor DeNoble, a former scientist for Philip Morris testified that the company ordered him not to publish his research on nicotine addiction when it was completed in 1984. Shortly thereafter, his lab was abruptly shut down. DeNoble’s lab was trying to develop a nicotine analogue—a substance that would mimic the effects of nicotine on the nervous system, without affecting the cardiovascular system. DeNoble said his team found that lab rats would administer nicotine into their veins when given the opportunity;
- In 1995, an undated Philip Morris memo surfaced, which cited data from 1992, and likened nicotine to cocaine, leaving little doubt that the world’s biggest tobacco company viewed nicotine as addictive. It called nicotine a “similar organic chemical” to drugs, including cocaine and morphine and acknowledged “nicotine’s particularly broad range of influence;”
- Jerome Rivers, an RJR scientist, testified that ammonia is used in cigarettes to deliver more nicotine into the smokers’ lungs;
- In 1995, two internal documents from Brown & Williamson surfaced and revealed that leading U.S. tobacco companies enhance nicotine delivery to smokers, but not by adding nicotine per se. Instead, marketers add ammonia-based compounds to cigarettes to increase the potency of the nicotine a smoker actually inhales;
- Several RJR documents revealed that the company tried to attract underage smokers. One 1987 document—stamped “RJR Secret”—discussed the planned introduction of a new version of Camel aimed at “younger adult male smokers (primarily 13-24 year-old male Marlboro smokers);”
- Lorillard Tobacco company documents also have been very revealing. A 1977 memo from researcher Harry J. Minnemeyer to Alexander Spears discussed the company’s “nicotine enrichment project.” Another memo from T.L. Achey to then-president Curtis Judge discussed youth marketing. Company executives said that high school students were the core of Lorillard’s business and worried about losing market share to rival brands. Achey suggested developing a menthol brand to compete with Marlboros, which was popular with young smokers;
- In the 1970s, Philip Morris used pollsters to learn more about youngsters and their smoking habits;
- A 1972 memo by Philip Morris scientist Al Udow said market research suggested that Kool cigarettes were considered the best “after marijuana” cigarette to smoke to maintain a “high.” Udow stated in the memo that king-size Kool had the highest nicotine “delivery” of all king-size cigarettes. He said that may explain Kool’s success and it suggested a route for us to follow to capture some of Kool’s business;”
- In 1973, RJR concluded that Philip Morris’ Marlboros had higher free-nicotine levels than the RJR brands, thus providing a greater nicotine kick and a competitive edge over RJR’s brands;
- Tobacco companies allowed candy cigarette companies to make their candy and the packages look like the real brands;
- In 1996, Ian Uydess, a former senior scientist for Philip Morris testified that the company invented a machine to measure the brain waves of smokers. At certain levels, “nicotine appeared to mimic addictive substances like cocaine;”
- One tobacco industry document from a lawyer for the Liggett Group claimed, “Cigarettes kill people beyond a reasonable doubt;”
- A document from a researcher at Lorillard Company suggested that industry lawyers had “thwarted” scientists’ desire to test the safety of cigarette ingredients;
- In 1997, RJR Nabisco Holdings’ chairman said “…I have always believed that smoking plays a role in causing lung cancer. What that role is, I don’t know, but I believe it.” In a pre-hearing deposition, he also said that the addictive properties of nicotine could deprive a smoker of free will.
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