Irresponsible tobacco and cigarette advertising

Other Names:
Smoking in the media
Unethical promotion of smoking in film and television

Advertising is an integral part of corporate expansion of the tobacco industry. The spending of large sums of money on advertising serves to spread and maintain the idea of smoking, associating it with success, pleasure, relaxation, freedom, or, in its crudest form, with the attractive sexual attributes of femininity or virility. Promotion of tobacco conveys the message that smoking is socially acceptable. Most importantly, advertising conveys the message, often in a most subtle way, that tobacco is a legal product which is quite properly on the market and should be treated like all other legal products.

Through advertising the industry buys the silence of those media that should be actively pointing out the negative consequences of smoking. Governments collude by not banning advertising, although they are aware of the horrendous costs of treating illnesses due to smoke inhalation.

Advertising smoking is very successful. Cigarette advertising campaigns in the late 1960's and early 1970's aimed at teenaged girls can be linked to a major increase in the number of smokers in that group. From 1944 to 1967 there was very little growth, but between 1967 and 1973 there was a 110% increase in the number of 12 year-old girls who started smoking; for 13 year-olds it was 55%; for 14 year-olds, it was 70%; for 15 year-olds, 75%; for 16 year-olds, 55%; and for 17 year-olds, 35%. After 1973 far lower percentages of teenaged girls started smoking.


The combined sales of the 3 largest tobacco companies in the USA came to more than $34,000 million in 1984; the industry earns about 17% a year on its equity. The importance of advertising and sales promotion to the tobacco companies is reflected in the amount of money they spend for this purpose. Global advertising costs of tobacco transnational conglomerates amounted to some $1,800 million in 1978. In the USA, the cigarette industry spends more than $422,000,000 annually on advertising in newspapers, magazines, and on billboards; in 1980, it was reported to spend more in one day than the principal government agency on smoking and health spent in a year. Recent information from the UK shows a substantial increase in regular tobacco advertising expenditures. A 1991 UK study estimated the tobacco industry spends £100 million a year on advertising. In Malaysia, the tobacco companies spent approximately $5,000,000 in 1977 to promote smoking.

A 1993 study found that 8 out of 10 of the year's most successful US movies contained smoking scenes, in which a total of 14 protagonists smoked cigarettes. According to the report, filmmakers used cigarette smoking to underline gender stereotypes, as men smoked when making serious decisions and women smoked when they were feeling vulnerable. The negative effects of smoking, such as lung cancer and heart disease are rarely if not ever addressed in films.

In August 1997, British American Tobacco Co hosted a seminar in Miami for dozens of journalists from Latin America to promote cigarette smoking in the developing world. This practice, of multinational tobacco companies directly approaching journalists and media from developing countries, providing information attacking restrictions on smoking as scientifically unsound and putting the industry point of view, is a sign of the importance tobacco companies place on replacing diminishing US markets with developing country markets. While the major tobacco companies have agreed to sweeping restrictions in the US on cigarette marketing, they are fighting as hard as ever in developing countries to convince the news media, the public and policymakers that similar changes are not needed there. In countries where tobacco producers spend a lot of money advertising in newspapers and are permitted to run television commercials, journalists coverage of health issues can sometimes show a slant in favour of the tobacco industry point of view.

Narrower Problems:
Misinformation about smoking
Related UN Sustainable Development Goals:
GOAL 3: Good Health and Well-beingGOAL 4: Quality EducationGOAL 16: Peace and Justice Strong Institutions
Problem Type:
E: Emanations of other problems
Date of last update
04.10.2020 – 22:48 CEST