Tobacco companies are using increasingly sophisticated marketing techniques to circumvent the law and promote their brands to young people, according to health experts.
Cigarette advertising is banned in the EU, but wily tobacco giants are increasingly targeting young people through social networking sites such as Facebook and at major music festivals to create a “buzz” around their products.
A survey of the major youth-orientated summer festivals held across the UK has revealed that the events have become a key target for cigarette manufacturers. Action on Smoking and Health (Ash) says that they provide powerful marketing opportunities for cigarette manufacturers to establish “a potent but unconscious bond between their brands and the intense experience of the festival”.
Several of the UK’s biggest festivals have allowed tobacco firms to sell their products on site in ways that have been condemned by health experts. This weekend’s Lovebox festival in east London’s Victoria Park, headlined by Roxy Music, is co-sponsored by Imperial Tobacco’s Rizla rolling paper, which is exempt from the ban on tobacco advertising. An Imperial spokesman said the brand had sponsored a number of festivals. “It’s all part of creating brand awareness and it’s entirely legitimate.”
At last year’s Latitude festival in Suffolk, only Marlboro cigarettes could be sold. The cigarettes were available in black-and-red kiosks that lit up at night and were sold by young, attractive staff wearing “Marlboro Red” T-shirts and sunglasses. Only “special edition” boxes of Marlboro were available from the kiosks, which also offered “festival edition” lighters. This year’s festival, which is being held this weekend, has seen a similar exclusive deal signed with John Player Special cigarettes, manufactured by Imperial Tobacco.
At last year’s Big Chill in Herefordshire, five large cigarette stands that were illuminated at night sold only brands produced by JTI, which include Camel, Benson and Hedges and Amber Leaf. The stands, which sold limited edition packs and cigarettes at a reduced price, were staffed by “promotion girls” dressed in white uniforms. Festival “packages” were also available, containing two packs of cigarettes in a box that came with a lighter and glow stick and could be worn around the neck. Cigarette “stub tidys” bearing the JTI and Gallaher tobacco company brands were given away, while customised camper vans sold rolling tobacco.
At the Wakestock festival in Wales in 2008, reduced-price cigarettes, again manufactured by JTI whose brands also include Silk Cut, were promoted in stylish porthole displays, erected on a split-level stand staffed by attractive female sales staff dressed in pink and white uniforms.
Research presented to parliament suggests that 17% of 11- to 15-year-olds who smoke regularly buy cigarettes from vending machines, while a study published in the Journal of Nicotine and Tobacco Research last year found that displays behind shop counters influence young smokers.