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Project Filter is the Idaho Tobacco Prevention and Control Program. We provide resources to people who want to quit tobacco, help educate the public about tobacco issues, and work with the community on creating smoke-free policies.

How the Tobacco Industry Uses Messages and Images to Attract and Keep Customers Initially, you might think that a company’s choice of messages and images have no effect on your decision to purchase their product. But let’s take a look at some recent, popular ads:

Apple iTunes


American Dairy Association

Each one of these companies uses images and messages to sell its products. Apple reaches its customers by using bright colors and dark silhouettes of hip people shown dancing to their downloaded tunes. Gatorade uses images of athletes who excel because they drink their energy beverage. The American Dairy Association shows us that you can drink milk and be thin, youthful and sexy. Red Bull’s images tell us that their drink is more powerful and manly than the standard soda. And look at the words: “Join the digital music revolution (be a rebel); “It’s in Kerri Walsh. Is it in you? (be just like her); Body by Milk (you can have a body like Panitierre’s by drinking milk). Because lots of people want to be hip, athletic, sexy or manly, companies carefully choose the words and images that will hit close to home. Their ads are telling us, “We know you and know what you like. We’ve got the product you need.” Red Bull (ad and logo)

On the next couple of pages, you’ll see what some cigarette and snus manufacturers have done in the past and continue to do to sell their products by using the friendly familiarity of certain images and messages. The big difference between the products on this page and the tobacco industry’s products? When used as directed, the tobacco industry’s products can kill or seriously harm a person.


In the Old Days of Cigarette Advertising Perhaps not everyone will remember these cigarette ads of the past, but using familiar characters, innocent, friendly faces and creating positive links to fun, happy, cool people and experiences were a powerful way to sell their products.

1940s and 1950s

They’ve used a familiar, cherished symbol.

They’ve used our family doctor.

And, of course, they use sex appeal.

They’ve used babies.

1960s, 1970s, 1980s They used free offers of music geared to young women.

They used cartoon characters.

They used images of gay men. The smoking rate among gay men at 40% is much higher than it is among straight men.*

They used rock music, independent music labels, hip language and placement in the Rolling Stone magazine.

Images courtesy of Trinkets and Trash:


Tobacco Advertising Today: 2010 - 2011 Not much has changed. The tobacco industry still uses positive associations and time-honored relationships, popular and meaningful words, and familiar, noble, and friendly images to sell addiction. The Statue of Liberty - symbol of freedom and liberty - isn’t even off limits.

Feel-good message using the peace sign and “peace pouch” as a reference to the Native American Indian sacred tobacco pouch.

July 4th is a reason to celebrate our freedom as a country, not a reason to sell snus. They link themselves with good causes to make us feel better about their products.

Symbols and landscape of the west, used by them to create a comfortable association with tobacco and the rugged western mentality. Freedom, independence, and being different is a common, powerful theme, which is very appealing to younger individuals.

Images of hip, young African American people having fun. Eighty (80) percent of cigarettes smoked by this group are mentholated. Images courtesy of Trinkets and Trash:


Still using hip youth to coax others to want to be just like them. After all, replacement customers have to come from younger individuals.

Friendly familiarity means using messages that target activities familiar to all of us. Here, RJ Reynolds encourages the dating group to switch to snus because cigarette smoking might not be attractive to one’s date.

The tobacco industry works with the alcohol industry to remind people that smoking and drinking are a natural, normal pairing. In this ad, Marlboro offers a free bottle opener.

Tobacco companies will continue to relentlessly “link their products to every conceivable cultural symbol, icon and image. These include: nurses and doctors as symbols of purity and health; sports figures as symbols of vigor; babies and children as symbols of harmlessness/innocence; Native Americans and other indigenous groups as symbols of authenticity; military images as symbols of toughness; historical and other landmarks as symbols of admirable, enduring values. Our families, our music, our art, our aspirations—all are harnessed in the service of selling more tobacco.”

Even the Great American Smokeout wasn’t off limits to the tobacco industry this year. But the industry isn’t telling people to quit smoking for good, they’re reminding people addicted to nicotine that on this day, they can fly under the radar and switch to snus.

On tobacco industry cultural appropriation. Ruth E. Malone. Tobacco Control December 2D09 Vol 18 No 6.

Images courtesy of Trinkets and Trash:


What’s the Fuss About? The first reaction you might have after reading the first few pages is “So what? All product manufacturers and companies sell their products this way.” True, they do. The problem was, and still is, this: Cigarettes are the only product that, when used as directed, can kill or seriously cause harm. Smokeless tobacco is another product that, when used as directed, can cause serious harm and result in disfiguring and painful surgeries. Almost no one is immune to the marketing tactics used to sell us products. Why else does Kay’s Jewelers, every holiday season, run commercials showing caring, loving partners together surprising each other with gifts of jewelry? Would showing their jewelry on a mannequin have as powerful an emotional effect? Would Hallmark® sell more cards if they showed racks of cards on store shelves? I doubt it. What sells their cards are the emotional appeals and the images of togetherness, love and happy homecomings. Would cereal companies be successful at getting young children to persuade their parents to buy sugary cereals if the commercials showed doctors talking about the nutritional value of fiber and calcium? Tobacco marketing firms have been studying our behavior for decades. Their research has helped the tobacco industry use just the right messages and images to sell their products. But we don’t have to be manipulated. Parents, teachers and healthcare professionals can do their part.

• Talk to your children, your students, and your patients about the real and serious health hazards of smoking and using smokeless tobacco. • Remind them that the tobacco industry’s ultimate goal is to keep people addicted to nicotine, in whatever form it takes. • Tell them that the photos of healthy people happily using tobacco are rarely close to the truth—in fact, 70% of smokers want to quit. • Help them see that an addiction to tobacco makes them anything but free and independent. • Last, but not least, tell them that they can quit. Thousands of people have managed to give up the addiction.

*Cigarette smoking among gay and bisexual men. Stall, et al. Available at http:// articles/PMC1509004/pdf/ amjph00012-0089.pdf

And, please, let others know that Project Filter is still offering a FREE 4-week supply of nicotine patches, gum or lozenges. Call 1-800-Quit-Now or sign up at This publication was supported by Grant/Cooperative Agreement Number 523056 from CDC. Its contents are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of CDC.


How the Tobacco Industry Uses Messages and Images to Attract and Keep Customers  

This is Project Filter's December 2011 Newsletter

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