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. 1996.
Roberts, Steven. " Teens on tobacco; kids smoke for reasons all their
own." U.S. News & World Report. 18 Apr. 1996: 38. Infotrac. Online. 27
Thomas, Roger E. "10 steps to keep the children in your practice
nonsmokers." American Family 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, The Journal of the American Medical Association. 29
Oct. 1993: 1978. Infotrac. Online. 27 Oct. 1996.