Florida Anti-Tobacco Teens Decry World Marketing
ORLANDO, Fla. (Reuters) - U.S. tobacco companies are targeting teens around the world using marketing practices they have been forced to abandon in the United States, according to a study by an anti-tobacco group of Florida teens released on Wednesday.
Students Working Against Tobacco, or SWAT, is funded by money from Florida's landmark $11.3 billion settlement against the big tobacco companies. It is best known for a series of public service advertisements that show teens challenging statements by tobacco executives.
For one week in June, teens visiting the Music Television Network's Web sites in China, Germany, India, Poland and Latin America were given the chance to click on a banner ad that led them to a questionnaire about their exposure to cigarette ads and other marketing tools in their countries.
Some 10,000 teens responded to the banner ads.
``In the past week, more than 62 percent of teenagers in these countries have been exposed to tobacco advertising in some form,'' Thomas Philpot, the 17-year-old SWAT chairman, told Reuters. ``The tobacco companies learned that marketing to teens and kids worked in this country, but since they can't do it here anymore, they've taken what they learned to other countries.''
In a series of settlements with state governments that sued to recoup the cost of treating sick smokers, the major tobacco companies agreed to end advertising that could influence children, such as at sporting events or using cartoon characters like ``Joe Camel.''
In a broader effort, student organizers in each of Florida's 67 counties ``adopted'' a nation to study how cigarettes are marketed, using the Internet to communicate with teens and with local anti-tobacco groups in those countries.
They found such things as baby clothes with cigarette logos, health warnings printed in foreign languages and tobacco-sponsored contests for children.
Anna White of Essential Action, a Washington, D.C.-based citizen's group, plans to use the e-mail addresses of respondents to the MTV sites to create an international partnerships for tobacco control.
She sad the most disturbing trend in developing countries is marketing that associates tobacco with American affluence and culture.
``In most of the world, the Marlboro Man isn't just a symbol of the Wild West, he's a symbol of the West,'' White said. ``You can't convince people that all Americans don't smoke.''
In Africa, she said, some of the most effective advertising includes images of affluent white Americans with recognizable landmarks, such as the New York City skyline, in the background.
In much of Africa, children as young as five are used to sell single cigarettes, affordable to other children, to support their own nicotine habits, she said.
SWAT is an arm of the Florida Department of Health and is generally credited with reducing smoking among Florida teens -- by 40 percent among middle-school students and 18 percent among high-school students.
Among other things, the SWAT group has organized what it calls the ``Truth'' campaign, aimed at telling young people the facts about the tobacco industry. The campaign has featured youth-friendly, irreverent advertisements featuring teens commenting on tobacco issues.