Tobacco in America
Everyday 3,000 children start smoking, most them between the ages of 10 and
18. These kids account for 90 percent of all new smokers. In fact, 90 percent of
all adult smokers said that they first lit up as teenagers (Roberts). These
statistics clearly show that young people are the prime target in the tobacco
wars. The cigarette manufacturers may deny it, but advertising and promotion
play a vital part in making these facts a reality (Roberts).
The kings of these media ploys are Marlboro and Camel. Marlboro uses a
fictional western character called The Marlboro Man, while Camel uses Joe Camel,
a high-rolling, swinging cartoon character. Joe Camel, the “smooth character”
from R.J. Reynolds, who is shown as a dromedary with complete style has been
attacked by many Tobacco-Free Kids organizations as a major influence on the
children of America. Dr. Lonnie Bristow, AMA (American Medical Association)
spokesman, remarks that “to kids, cute cartoon characters mean that the product
is harmless, but cigarettes are not harmless. They have to know that their ads
are influencing the youth under 18 to begin smoking”(Breo). Researchers at the
Medical College of Georgia report that almost as many 6-year olds recognize Joe
Camel as know Mickey Mouse (Breo). That is very shocking information for any
parent to hear.
The industry denies that these symbols target people under 21 and claim that
their advertising goal is simply to promote brand switching and loyalty. Many
people disagree with this statement such as Illinois Rep. Richard Durbin who
states ” If we can reduce the number of young smokers, the tobacco companies
will be in trouble and they know it “(Roberts). So what do the tobacco companies
do to keep their industry alive and well? Seemingly, they go toward a market
that is not fully aware of the harm that cigarettes are capable of.
U.S. News recently featured a discussion of the smoking issue with 20
teenagers from suburban Baltimore. The group consisted of ten boys and ten girls
between the ages of 15 and 17. When asked why they started smoking, they gave
two contradictory reasons: They wanted to be a part of a peer group. They also
wanted to reach out and rebel at the same time. ” When you party, 75 to 90
percent of the kids are smoking. It makes you feel like you belong,” says Devon
Harris, a senior at Woodlawn High. Teens also think of smoking as a sign of
independence. The more authority figures tell them not to smoke, the more likely
they are to pick up the habit (Roberts). The surprising thing is that these kids
know that they are being influenced by cigarette advertising.
If these kids know that this advertising is manipulating them, why do they
still keep smoking? The ads are everywhere, especially in teen-oriented
magazines, such as Rolling Stone and Spin. The ads also fuel some of the reasons
the children gave for starting. They represent rebellion, independence,
acceptance and happiness. These are all the things a young person, between
childhood and adolescence, needs and desires. This type of advertising, on top
of peer pressure, is the mystery behind the rise in adolescent smoking.
How do we stop the future of America from smoking? Here are three things
that the experts recommend. Try to convince your children that smoking is not
cool. Talk to your kids at a young age about the dangers of smoking. Identify
family members who smoke and ask them to stop (Thomas).
Children are the most valuable commodity we are given in life. Let’s try to
educate them while they’re young to be independent thinkers and to not be swayed
by the tobacco companies who are trying to take advantage of their mind and body.
“Bill Clinton vs. Joe Camel.” U.S. News & World Report. 2 Sep. 1996: 12.
Infotrac. Online. 27 Oct. 1996.
“Selling Tobacco to Kids.” America. 17 Feb. 1996: 3. Infotrac. Online. 27 Oct.
Roberts, Steven. ” Teens on tobacco; kids smoke for reasons all their own.” U.S.
News & World Report.
18 Apr. 1996: 38. Infotrac. Online. 27 Oct. 1996.
Thomas, Roger E. “10 steps to keep the children in your practice nonsmokers.”
Physician. Aug. 1996: 450. Infotrac. Online. 27 Oct. 1996.
Breo, Dennis L. “Kicking Butts-AMA, Joe Camel and the ‘Black Flag’ war on
tobacco.” JAMA, TheJournal of the American Medical Association. 29
Oct. 1993: 1978. Infotrac. Online. 27 Oct. 1996.