How the industry is marketing menthol cigarettes: the audience, the message and the medium

Despite declines in overall US cigarette consumption, the menthol cigarette market share has increased in recent years. Advertising contributes to menthol initiation and use, but little has been done to characterize menthol cigarette advertising outside of the point of sale.

Methods Two full-service advertising firms were used to develop a library of menthol cigarette advertisements (ads) over a 9-month period (June 2012–February 2013) in the USA. The volume of ads, media channel (direct mail, print, online, email), estimated spend and households reached was summarized overall and by brand in 2013. Direct mail, email and print ads were coded for content and the target audience of print publications was examined.

Results Over the study period, 205 menthol cigarette ads were identified with estimated expenditures exceeding US$31 million, with 70% spent on direct mail ads. Over 90% of ads promoted Camel, Marlboro and Newport menthol cigarettes. A majority (87%) of direct mail ads contained coupons or other incentives known to appeal to price-sensitive customers. Only two brands’ print ads appeared during this period: Newport ads focused on themes of sociability and sexuality, and were placed in magazines targeting African-Americans and younger consumers; American Spirit print ads were placed in general interest magazines and predominantly stressed the ‘natural’ aspects of their brand.

Discussion The tobacco industry continues to spend millions of dollars promoting menthol cigarettes through channels that preferentially target vulnerable subgroups, such as African-Americans and younger consumers. Public health campaigns to educate and combat the influence of menthol advertising are needed.

Tobacco Control
Richardson, Amanda; Ganz, Ollie; Pearson, Jennifer; Celcis, Nathalie; Vallone, Donna; Villanti, Andrea
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